Theme The Final Literary Element LIT 201-200 March 3, 2008
Definitions of THEME • General idea or insight the entire story reveals • An abstract claim, or doctrine, whether implicit to asserted, which an imaginative work is designed to incorporate and make persuasive to the reader • The central or dominating idea in a literary work • The abstract concept which is made concrete through its representation in person, action, and image in the work • The generalization that is either stated or implied and holds the story together • Controlling idea • Central insight • The story’s purpose • Moral • The point of the story
Tips for Recognizing THEME • Read the author’s other writings. • Closely analyze the character’s conflicts – what they are and how they are concluded? • Look back once more at the title of the story. From what you have read, what does it indicate? • Does the main character in any way change in the story? Does this character arrive at any eventual realization or understanding? Are you left with any realization or understanding you did not have before? • Does the author make any general observation about life or human nature? Do the characters make any? (Caution: Character now and again will utter opinions with which the reader is not necessarily suppose to agree.)
Tips continued • Does the story contain any especially curious objects, mysterious flat characters, significant animals, repeated names, song titles, or whatever, that hint toward meanings larger than such things ordinarily have? Are there clues which lead you toward your statement of theme? In literary stories, such symbols may point to central themes. • When you have worded your statement of theme, have you cast your statement into general language, not just given a plot summary? • Does your statement hold true for the story as a whole, not just for part of it?
“Birthday Party” Exercise Reread the very short story, “Birthday Party,” by Katherine Brush. In no more than two sentences, write out the theme of the short story. List the specific hints or clues from the story itself that led you to your statement of theme and briefly explain them. • THEME: • HINTS OR CLUES LEADING TO THEME: • BRIEF EXPLANATION:
Birthday Party by Katherine Brush They were a couple in their late thirties, and they looked unmistakably married. They sat on the banquette opposite us in a little narrow restaurant, having dinner. The man had a round, self-satisfied face, with glasses on it; the woman was fadingly pretty, in a big hat. There was nothing conspicuous about them, nothing particularly noticeable until the end of their meal, when it suddenly became obvious that this was an Occasion ---in fact, the husband's birthday, and the wife had planned a little surprise for him. It arrived, in the form of a small but glossy birthday cake, with one pink candle burning in the center. The headwaiter brought it in and placed it before the husband, and meanwhile the violin-and-piano orchestra played' “Happy Birthday to You” and the wife beamed with shy pride over her little surprise, and such few people as were in the restaurant tried to help out with a pattering of applause. It became clear at once that help was needed, because the husband was not pleased. Instead he was hotly embarrassed, and indignant at his wife for embarrassing him. You looked at him and you saw this and you thought, "Oh, now, don’t be like that!” But he was like that, and as soon as the little cake had been deposited on table, and the orchestra had finished the birthday piece, and the general attention shifted from the man and woman, I saw him say something to her under his breath -- some punishing thing, quick and curt and unkind. I couldn't bear to look at the woman then, so I stared at my plate and waited for quite a long time. Not long enough, though. She was still crying when I finally glanced over there again. Crying quietly and heartbrokenly and hopelessly, all to herself, under the gay big brim of her best hat.
“Thinking at Right Angles” Exercise • DUE: Next week at the beginning of class/7:00 PM. • Use “Thinking at Right Angles Form.” Handwrite your responses on it or type your responses on the form for the two or three stories you have been assigned for this THEME exercise in “Thinking at Right Angles.” Work with your assigned partner on this assignment! • NOTE: You may be assigned as many as three stories and at least two stories for each partnership. If you are absent on 03/03/08, then you will be completing this assignment by yourself. • DO YOU RECEIVE ANY CREDIT FOR COMPLETING THIS ASSIGNMENT? Yes – when you take the midterm test next week in class, you will receive 5 points for doing and submitting on time ALL of the “Thinking at Right Angles” short story theme worksheets as assigned to you below.
NOTE: Your partnership and short story assignments for the “Thinking at Right Angles” exercise will be posted on our class website at http://faculty.elgin.edu/sdye/coursepage.html
Hint about next week’s in-class midterm essay exam: Be sure to visit our class website after tomorrow / Tuesday night at 8 PM. There may be some materials that will be of value to you as you prepare for the midterm exam to be given in class next Monday, March 10, 2008.