The central idea of a text. Holman and Harmon state that “in poetry, fiction, and drama it is the abstract concept that is made concrete through representation in person, action, and image” (475). This concept, much like a thesis statement, must have a subject and an assertion. When addressing theme, just stating “technology” (subject) would not be enough — what about technology as it is represented in the text? An example could then be “technology, if not used critically, has many dangers.” Holman and Harmon provide another example: “‘Human wishes,’ is a topic or subject; the ‘vanity of human wishes’ is a theme” (476).
An assertion that the text seems to make about the subject. According to Quinn “the theme is a useful way of organizing the reading of the text, of connecting one text to another, and of applying reading to the experiences of life.” A theme helps the reader discover meanings in literary work by making connections between the text and the outside world. It consists of the ideas that emerge from the text such as action, observations, revealing states of mind, and feelings. For example, in The Age of Spiritual Machines and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep the subject is “androids.” The theme that unifies the reader to the text could be “Androids may some day be so sophisticated it will be impossible to distinguish them from humans.”
- Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 7th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996.
- Quinn, Edward, ed. A Dictionary of Literature and Thematic Terms. New York: Facts on File, 1999.
- Seigneuret, Jean-Charles, et al, eds. Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs L-Z. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.