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Theme. Chapter 4 Page 188. Reversal of Expectation vs. Truth about Human Life. “Daddy, the man next door kisses his wife every morning when he leaves for work. Why don’t you do that?” “Are you kidding? I don’t even know the woman.”

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theme

Theme

Chapter 4

Page 188

reversal of expectation vs truth about human life
Reversal of Expectation vs. Truth about Human Life

“Daddy, the man next door kisses his wife every morning when he leaves for work. Why don’t you do that?”

“Are you kidding? I don’t even know the woman.”

“Daughter, your young man stays until a very late hour. Hasn’t your mother said anything to you about this habit of his?”

“Yes, father. Mother says men haven’t altered a bit.”

theme1
Theme
  • Controlling idea or central insight of a piece of fiction
  • Unifying generalization about life stated or implied by the story
  • Must determine the central purpose to derive theme
    • What view of life does it support?
    • What insight into life does it reveal?
no theme
No Theme?
  • Horror story: scare readers
  • Adventure story: excite readers
  • Murder mystery: pose a problem for readers to solve
  • Humorous story: make readers laugh
theme exists only
Theme exists only…
  • when an author has seriously attempted to record life accurately or reveal some truth about it
  • when an author has deliberately introduced as a unifying element some concept or theory of life that the story illuminates
  • Literary: primary purpose
  • Commercial: less important than suspense or plot; may not exist
revelation of human character
Revelation of Human Character
  • Theme may exist only to exhibit a certain kind of human being.
  • Theme may reveal something about all human beings or their relationship to each other or the universe.
length of theme
Length of Theme
  • May range from a sentence to a paragraph depending on simplicity and length of story
  • One-sentence themes may only address the central insight, not the full range and depth of the work
    • “Jealousy exacts a terrible cost.” -Othello
purpose
Purpose
  • Abstract statement of theme is not the whole purpose of the story
  • Stories vivify themes, delivering to emotions, senses, and imaginations
  • A “dry backbone” without the story
explicit or implied
Explicit or Implied
  • Story writers reveal life, not just comment on it (as an essayist)
  • Stories typically have implied themes, not explicit statements
  • “Good writers do not ordinarily write a story for the sole purpose of ‘illustrating’ a theme, as do the writers of parables or fables. They write stories to bring alive some segment of human existence. When they do so searchingly and coherently, theme arises naturally out of what they have written.”
theme vs moral
Theme vs. moral
  • Moral, some rule of conduct to apply to life, isn’t necessarily theme
    • not every story is a sermon
    • seeking one in every story oversimplifies and conventionalizes
    • “Crime doesn’t pay,” “Be kind to animals,” or “Look before you leap”
  • What does this story teach? vs. What does this story reveal?
    • “Interpreter of Maladies”: the danger of keeping secrets in a marriage (moral) vs. The human search for love can result in a ‘malady’ when unaccompanied by honest emotion or when inspired by naïve infatuation. Different sets of cultural and moral values often result in comic but poignant failures to connect meaningfully with another person.(theme)
commercial vs literary
Commercial vs. Literary
  • Commercial: typically confirm readers’ prejudices/opinions/feelings and satisfy readers’ wishes; represent life as we’d like it to be, not as it is
    • “Motherhood is sacred,” “Cheaters never win,” “Hard work wins out in the end”
  • Literary: may represent somber truths; may nourish more deeply than “warm and fuzzy” commercialism
    • You don’t have to agree with it, but it still has value in examining the human experience.
finding theme
Finding Theme
  • Theme should be expressible in the form of a statement with a subject and predicate.
    • Not a subject (motherhood, loyalty, etc.)
    • Must make a statement about a subject (Loyalty to country often inspires heroic sacrifice.)
  • Theme should be stated as a generalization about life.
    • Don’t use the names of the characters or refer to precise places/events
finding theme1
Finding Theme
  • Be careful not to make the generalization larger than is justified by the terms of the story.
    • Avoid “every,” “all,” and “always” in favor of “some,” “sometimes,” and “may”
    • Too large: “Habitually compliant and tolerant mothers will eventually stand up to their bullying children.”
    • Fitting: “A person whose honesty and tolerance have long made her susceptible to the strong will of another may reach a point where she will exert her own will for the sake of justice.” or “Ingrained habits can be given up if justice makes a greater demand.”
finding theme2
Finding Theme
  • Theme is the central and unifying concept of a story.
    • It accounts for all major details of the story.
      • Incomplete if an important incident can’t be explained
    • It isn’t contradicted by any detail of the story.
      • Don’t overlook details or force the meaning of a significant detail
    • It can’t rely upon supposed facts—facts not actually stated or clearly implied by the story.
      • Base it on data, not assumptions
finding theme3
Finding Theme
  • There is no one way of stating the theme of a story.
    • Merely presents a view of life; as long as the above conditions are fulfilled, may be presented in different ways
  • Avoid any statement that reduces the theme to some familiar saying we have heard all our lives.
    • “You can’t judge a book by its cover” or “Love is blind”
    • Don’t use a lazy shortcut that “impoverishes the essential meaning”; beware clichés