What are the examples of themes in literature? What makes certain stories irresistibly magnetic, pulling you back time and again? It’s not just the compelling characters or the genuine dialogue, nor is it solely the adrenaline-pumping action or the heart-wrenching romances. While the finest tales blend these elements seamlessly, one vital ingredient elevates them from mere commercial hits to enduring classics: a powerful literary theme.
Read on as you learn the examples of themes in literature.
What Is a Literary Theme?
A theme in a story is like its big idea. It’s the main point that the writer wants to talk about. It could be about how we shouldn’t judge people by how they look, which is a simple idea. Or it could be about something bigger, like how society works or what it means to be human.
Authors use different things in their stories to show the theme, like the characters, where the story happens, what the characters say, and what happens in the story. In simple stories, the theme might be a clear lesson, like not judging others. But in more complicated stories, the theme is often about bigger things that make us think about life and society. Themes help us understand what the writer wants to say and make the story more meaningful.
15 Examples of Themes in Literature
Themes are important ideas in stories, and they often show up in books, movies, and plays. Let’s talk about a few themes and some examples.
1. Love and Sacrifice
Love is a strong feeling, and sometimes people in stories make big sacrifices because of love. For example, in the story “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, the main characters give up their lives for love. In another story called “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, a couple gives away their most valuable things to make each other happy.
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2. The Individual Versus Society
Sometimes, a person goes against what everyone else thinks is right. This can happen in a big society or even in a small group of friends. In “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, there’s a character named Atticus Finch who fights against racism, even though many people around him are racist. In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss Everdeen stands up against a powerful government that controls everyone’s lives. In “Tomorrow When the War Began,” a group of friends fights back against an army that has taken over their town.
3. The Hero’s Journey
This is one of the examples of themes in literature that is about characters going on big adventures or quests. They face challenges and learn important things, which changes them for the better. In “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien, a character named Frodo, who is initially shy and inexperienced, goes on a journey where he becomes brave and earns the respect of powerful people. He comes back home a changed person.
Themes help us understand the deeper meanings of stories and the lessons they teach us about life.
4. Growing Up
Sometimes, stories are about young people growing up. They show how teenagers face challenges and learn from them. These challenges can be personal or related to society. As the story unfolds, the young protagonist learns important lessons, leading to self-discovery and self-acceptance. These stories are relatable to teenagers because they understand the struggles and emotions that come with growing up. It’s like watching a TV show and saying, “Only a teenager would do that!” These stories are valuable because they help young people understand and navigate the challenges of growing up.
Examples of this theme can be found in books like “The Catcher in the Rye,” where the main character, Holden Caulfield, learns the importance of education and family after facing difficulties in his life.
5. Power and Corruption:
Another theme in literature is about power and how it can change people and societies. These stories explore how power can lead to corruption and have harmful consequences. They often comment on injustice and show how power can bring out both the best and the worst in people.
This theme is common in political or dystopian literature like George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984.” In Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth,” the main character’s desire for power leads to his tragic downfall. These stories serve as a warning about the dangers of power and corruption in society.
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6. Redemption and Forgiveness
People often make mistakes, and this theme is about saying sorry and being forgiven. Characters in stories might feel guilty about something they did and want to make it right. This happens in stories where ghosts need peace before moving on. In Christian stories, asking for forgiveness and being forgiven is crucial. Characters might struggle to forgive themselves too. An example of this theme is in Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” where the main character tries to make up for betraying his friend.
7. War and Peace
Some stories talk about war and peace. They show how war affects people physically and mentally, and how politics and the pursuit of peace play out. These stories might also look at life after war, how people find peace within themselves, or the strong bonds formed during battles. “All Quiet on the Western Front” shows the pain soldiers faced in World War I. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy explores war from different angles, including soldiers’ experiences and how it affected families and leaders.
8. Death and Mortality:
Stories are most powerful when they talk about things everyone goes through, like death. Some stories talk about how sad it is to lose someone, while others use the idea of death to think about what life really means. Sometimes, these stories also talk about religion and finding the meaning of life.
In a book called “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” the main character faces his own death and thinks about the kind of life he’s lived and the people he’s connected with.
9. Nature and Environment
Because the Earth is facing big problems like climate change, stories now often talk about how people relate to nature. Some stories show how small humans are compared to nature, and others show the bad things people are doing to the environment. Sometimes, the conflict in stories is between humans and nature, like when someone is stuck in the desert and has to fight against nature to survive.
Examples: In a book called “Walden,” the author goes to live in the woods to learn about simple living and nature. Another book, “The Lorax,” tells a story to warn people about hurting the environment.
10. Identity and Belonging
This is one of the examples of themes in literature about understanding who you are and where you fit in society. It’s a bit like stories about growing up and becoming your own person. In these stories, characters might struggle with what others expect from them or try to find a group where they feel like they belong.
In a book called “Invisible Man,” the main character tries to figure out who he is in a society that sees him as just a stereotype. Another book, “The Joy Luck Club,” talks about the challenges of being both Chinese and American, and how different generations understand each other.
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11. Good Versus Evil
In many stories, there’s a big battle between good and bad. It’s a common theme in literature. This means there’s a clear fight between the heroes, who are good, and the villains, who are bad. This fight often represents bigger ideas about what’s right and wrong in the world. Sometimes, it’s not so clear who’s good and who’s bad. The best stories make us question this and even understand the bad characters’ point of view.
For example, in the “Harry Potter” books by J.K. Rowling, Harry and his friends are always fighting against the evil wizard Lord Voldemort and his followers. A similar theme is found in C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
12. Freedom And Confinement
This theme is all about the difference between wanting to be free and being stuck. Being stuck can mean being physically trapped, like in jail or as a slave, or it can be a mental feeling, like when you feel like you can’t do what you want because of what others expect.
In some stories, characters dream of being free, like in stories about young people wanting to leave their small town in the 1950s. In others, it’s about being physically trapped, like in stories about prisoners of war.
For instance, in Stephen King’s “The Shawshank Redemption,” characters are in prison, but they find ways to be free in their hearts. In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, characters are trapped in a mental hospital, and they fight to be in control of their own lives.
13. Rebellion And Conformity
This is one of the examples of themes in literature that is about the struggle between doing your own thing and fitting in with what society expects. Characters might stand up to authority, not follow the rules, or fight against a system that’s too controlling. This is a bit like the “man vs. society” conflict.
It can also be about someone rebelling against a group they don’t want to be a part of, like a cult or a strict religion. Some characters go back to their roots and do what’s expected, while others break free from the rules and find their own way.
For example, in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” the main character, Guy Montag, rebels against a society that bans books and free thinking. He changes from a person who goes along with the rules to someone who wants to learn, showing the fight between following the crowd and going your own way.
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14. Innocence and Experience
The theme of innocence versus experience often shows how people go from being very idealistic and not knowing much to becoming wiser through their life experiences. For example, this theme can also look at how kids start off not knowing much and become disappointed when they grow up.
Characters often face tough truths or go through things that break their innocence and make them understand the world in a more complicated way.
In “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, a group of boys stuck on an empty island slowly lose their innocence as they try to make a society but end up becoming savage.
15. Reality versus Illusion
This is one of the examples of themes in literature that explores what’s real and what’s not and how people can have trouble telling the difference. In these cases, the story might make the reader uncertain about what’s true and what’s not (like when the narrator can’t be trusted).
Also, this theme might look at how characters choose to believe in something false instead of facing a tough reality.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Jay Gatsby pretends to be very rich and important to make Daisy Buchanan love him. In “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, Blanche DuBois often escapes into her dreams because she can’t deal with her harsh reality.
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