Questions for Literary Analysis: Theme

When students want to know how to write a literary analysis about theme, or a theme analysis, giving them questions they can ask is very useful.

Analysis of Theme involves working the concept, thought, opinion or belief that the author expresses. It is very common (and helpful) to consider theme when analyzing another aspect of literature rather than on its own. The theme of a work is the main message, insight, or observation the writer offers.
The importance of theme in literature can be overestimated; the work of fiction is more than just the theme. However, the theme allows the author to control or give order to his perceptions about life.

Can you identify major and minor themes?
A short story probably only has one theme. A novel often has several.
· Does it seem like the author is making a value judgment?
· How does the author convey his ideas? Consider:

  • Direct statements.
  • Imagery and symbolism.
  • A character’s thoughts or statements.
  • A character who stands for something (e.g. an archetype)
  • Overall impression/tone/moral of the work?

· Are there recurring images, concepts, structures OR two contrasting ones?

Motifs often support minor themes.

· Is there a conspicuous recurring element which appears frequently in works of literature?
This is called an archetype: a character, an action, or situation that seems to represent common patterns of human life. For example, in fairy tales the abused person is always good. This lets you know who is good in the story immediately (a character identification) and it helps you to believe that good will triumph over evil (a theme).

· Are there any allusions? Are these historical, biblical, modern?
Often allusions are used to make a large point quickly. “He was a Houdini” means he can get out of tight situations. He might even be an escape artist.

One thought on “Questions for Literary Analysis: Theme”

  1. Hi, I am suddenly called to sub a class on themes and literary analysis. You gave me such simple clarity I feel armed and ready to go. Thank you very much!
    Regards from Vancouver Canada

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