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What Are Recurring Themes?. Feature Menu. Theme Recurring Themes Your Turn. Theme. Truths About Life. Think of a movie or book that had a strong impact on you. Theme.

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what are recurring themes
What Are Recurring Themes?

Feature Menu


Recurring Themes

Your Turn


Truths About Life

Think of a movie or book that had a strong impact on you.


When you walked out of the theater or closed the book, you may have found yourself thinking about the story’s message about life.



If so, you were thinking about thethemeof that movie or book—its message about life.


Maybe the theme made you look at yourself in a new way.

Or, perhaps the theme helped you understand a friend in a way you hadn’t before.


Writers do not always have a theme in mind when they begin writing. Often, a writer begins with an idea about a character or a situation.


What’s your theme going to be?


Eventually, a theme begins to emerge from the developing story and from the writer’s beliefs about life.

I think I see a theme emerging!


Traditional or Contemporary?

Theme is at the heart of every story, whether it is traditional or contemporary.

  • Traditional works are myths, folk tales, stories, and poems passed on by word of mouth, often over many centuries.
  • Contemporary works are works written in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
  • (Some scholars say that contemporary works are those written after 1960.)


Theme: What Does It Mean?

Plot answers the question, “What happens?”

Theme answers the question, “What does it mean?”



To understand the difference between theme and plot, think of the fairy tale “Cinderella.”

Cinderella is a kind girl who is mistreated by her ugly stepsisters. She attends the royal ball and becomes a princess in the end.

Good people are rewarded with good fortune.





Quick Check

Which of these passages is an example of a plot?

  • Friendship
  • Kelly and Maria were closer than sisters, but Kelly could never understand why Maria barely talked to her at school. One day, Kelly overheard some students gossiping about her with Maria. Maria was afraid that if she stuck up for Kelly she’d become the next target for the gossip.
  • Sometimes, your best friends can be your worst enemies.

Which passage is an example of a theme?

[End of Section]



A subject can often be described using a single word or phrase, such as

  • grief,
  • competition, or
  • betrayal.

A theme needs a full sentence to describe it: Sometimes feelings of grief help bring about needed change.



The theme states what you learn about the subject from reading the story.

Theme: What you learn

about the subject




Theme: Sometimes the most ordinary moments are filled with the most love.



Quick Check

What is the subject of the story?

Juan loved soccer. He couldn’t remember a time when he was not kicking a ball around on the grass, down the street, or even in the house. His mom hated it when he played ball in the house.

It was raining—and had been for four days straight. Juan was itching to play soccer, and his mom wasn’t home. He decided it wouldn’t hurt tokick the ball a little, using the fireplace as a goal. Unfortunately, he missed the fireplace and hit the new lamp.

What is a theme of the story?

[End of Section]



Everyone has different experiences in life. These experiences influence how you view a movie, TV show, piece of art, poem, or story.



Look closely at the following painting.

What do you think the painting means?



Discuss the painting’s meaning with another student.

In what ways are your interpretations similar? In what ways are they different?



Just as two people will probably see the same painting in different ways, two readers will often understand a story differently.

I think “Little Red Riding Hood” is about listening to your parents and taking their advice.

I think it’s about standing up to bullies.



Because two readers may have different views of the same story, each reader may discover two or more different themes within the story.

[End of Section]


Quick Check

What is a theme, or message about life, of the grandfather’s story?

When Sam visited his grandfather’s restaurant, Gramps told him a story about a young boy. His brothers teased the boy because he hated to go fishing. Instead, he loved to help his mom cook the fish they brought home.

The boy didn’t let their comments bother him; he kept right on cooking. Before long, his family was begging the boy to cook his special dish.

[End of Section]

recurring themes
Recurring Themes
  • People around the world share many of the same dreams . . .

and fears.

recurring themes1
Recurring Themes
  • Some stories appear in many different countries and cultures.
recurring themes2
Recurring Themes

True love endures and thrives.

Don’t give up on your dreams.

Friendship is golden.

Characters and settings may be different, but . . .

the same themes will reappear again and again.

recurring themes3
Recurring Themes

Never give up on a friend.

A good attitude leads to success.

Unlimited money and power corrupt.

These themes are called universal themes, or recurring themes.

[End of Section]


Analyze Recurring Themes

Your Turn

How many times have you read a story or seen a show with these themes?

  • Things may not always be what they seem.
  • Wishes can have surprising consequences.
  • You should treasure the good in your life.
  • The gift of love can change a person.

Analyze Recurring Themes

Your Turn

To begin your exploration of recurring themes, look again at the list of themes. Then, think of traditional and contemporary works you have studied or read on your own. Think also of movies, plays, and TV shows you have seen.

  • Things may not always be what they seem.
  • Wishes can have surprising consequences.
  • You should treasure the good in your life.
  • The gift of love can change a person.

Analyze Recurring Themes

Your Turn

With a group of classmates, brainstorm titles of works that reflect those themes. Record your titles in a chart like this one.


Things may not always be what they seem.

“Inn of Lost Time”

“The Princess and the Frog”

Wishes can have surprising consequences.

“Those Three Wishes”

“Flowers for Algernon”

[End of Section]