Themes in literature have always been difficult for me. I remember being in high school, confronted with a question about the ‘theme’ of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and feeling very lost. How could I have read and enjoyed the entire work and still have no idea what the theme is?
Upon discovering that a theme could be something as general as prejudice, rebirth, fate, corruption, or marriage, I was bewildered – and a bit furious! If it were a snake, it would have bit me.
Working with a student on the AP Lit exam, I found that she was also struggling with the concept of theme. From my own experience, unthinking the problem seemed to be the way to approach it. Theme is almost best arrived at through a game of free association: “I say 1984, you say… corruption.” “I say Huckelberry Finn, you say… racism.”
This got me thinking: this kind of thinking is ubiquitous in our modern lives! Every time I tag a post “life-long learning” or “essay writing,” I am identifying a theme: a category which sums up some part of the essence of my writing, and ties it into the writing of others.
This is best exemplified in twitterspeak. Whenever you attach a #hashtag to a comment, you are identifying its theme. Perhaps this would be a great way to understand theme:
#rebirth Daisy finally telling Tom she loves Gatsby
#nature Nebraska cornfields are Antonía’s lifeblood
#rebirth first you’re a bug, and then you die @kafka
@homer rosy fingered dawn, because the sun also rises