To start with, literary themes are very broad and universal. You can see these same themes in everything from novels and short stories to poetry and creative nonfiction, so it’s no surprise that they show up again and again in literature. The beauty of themes in literature is that they can be looked at from a variety of angles and make different thematic statements. That’s not to say that all works with the same theme do so in the same way (in other words opinions on said themes). There will be some examples of how themes are being used in this section.
We see this every time we watch the news. People who want power do crazy things. This is what happens naturally in stories. From dystopias like Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy to fantasy like The Lord of the Rings and classics like Animal Farm, the idea of power has been used in a lot of books. Power can be corrupting, it can be traded between oppressive states and people, and sometimes it can be the power of dreams. Regardless, the element of power is still very important.
It is very interesting and complicated to read about how families work together and how that can lead to conflict in stories. Books have always wondered what a family is, and they will keep asking that question and highlighting both the good and bad things that happen in them. This is true of both intergenerational epics like Pachinko and 100 Years of Solitude, as well as contemporary novels like Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.How to write a novel: A free course on how to write a novel.
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Questions about who you are and the labels that come with them play a big role in many books. Who we are is one of the most important questions we have to answer. We have to think about everything from our ethnic or racial identities to our gender identities and our mental health diagnoses, like in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Trying to answer that question for yourself or for the group you belong to is a goal for some writers. For others, literature is a place to let go of labels and embrace a self that is at the intersections of different groups. This also has to do with how society affects how we think about ourselves and other people.
It’s hard to think of anything more “writerly” than the image of a lone, isolated scribe typing away into the dark through a window that is lit. If we’re being honest, the person who doesn’t fit in at school is a symbol for people all over. You can find loners, misfits, and introverts in literature all over, from The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Catcher in the Rye to more recent bestsellers like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. These stories are always heartbreaking, no matter how the theme is used. Whether it’s to show that human nature is lonely, to criticize dependence, or to argue that loneliness is a societal privilege, these are stories that never fail to be deeply moving.
Friends, it’s said, are the family we choose for ourselves, and the bonds we have with them are just as complicated, tense, or heart-warming as the bonds we have with our family. People who were friends when they were younger are often at the heart of children’s books like The Secret Garden or Charlotte’s Web. In books for young people, friendship is often praised for its selflessness and friendship. It is still a common theme in books about young adulthood, coming-of-age stories, and even later life, as titles like Teddy Wayne’s Apartment, Swing Time, A Little Life, and Cantoras show. Similarly, friendship is also talked about when it’s absent, when there are tensions, when things go wrong, and when things go wrong. There is no one friendship that is the same, and there is no one book that shows that.
Free will vs. Fate
Some of the best-loved classics of literature, such as plays, have a common conflict and literary theme: the conflict between one’s ability to make their own futures and their externally chosen fate. Oedipus Rex, Macbeth, and Doctor Faustus are just a few examples of literature that have had this kind of conflict in them for a very long time. Harry Potter and Kafka on the Shore are also examples of literature that have had this kind of conflict in them for a very long time.
There are times when hope comes from the most unlikely places. For books, that often means stories about loss and despair or disasters. They usually end with a note of hope, like when Paul Kalanithi wrote When Breath Becomes Air. Stories about social issues, like racism or climate change, also end with a note of hope. This list includes The Hate U Give, The Overstory, and A Tale for the Time Being.
*Sighs in awe-struck love * Ah, that’s right. Love is one of those things that has kept literature going since the beginning of time. It’s not going to stop any time soon. Romantic love (or the heartbreak that comes from not having it) is at the heart of a lot of books that aren’t just about romance. This includes literary fiction and classics like Romeo and Juliet, YA books like Eleanor and Park and Red, White, and Royal Blue, and historical fiction like Outlander. This theme is used by some authors to write books that are both delightful and comforting. Others write about what it means to be dependent on someone else, or how a relationship changes over time. Regardless of what everyone else thinks, stories that focus on love are going to be very emotional.
People who write about violence and conflict could be a whole genre of their own, like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, who wrote about the effects of the First World War.
Our childhood years might not be the only thing that makes us who we are, but they still play a big role in how we want to change who we are. So, whether we look back on our childhoods with fondness, or we look at the bitter realizations that came after, childhood is a common theme in literature. Three examples that do this are Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, and Room by Emma Donoghue.
Coming of age
When people become adults, they go through a lot of changes. This is another time when people go through a lot of changes. It’s a common theme in books like Emma, Middlesex, and My Brilliant Friend, which show the uncertainty and power that comes with this stage of life, like Jane Austen’s Emma and Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex.
Environment and climate change
Unfortunately, the planet is getting warmer. As the planet’s temperature rises, so do concerns about our future as a species. This leads to more stories about the environment or climate change as main themes. Books like Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, The Wall by John Lanchester, and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss will be talked about more often now that ecofiction and “cli-fi” are getting more attention.