Do I Sense a Theme Here? Literature Studies for TeensBetsy Strauss
When kids are little, it’s so easy to use stories to bring to life some challenging ideas. You read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie as a fun way to introduce natural consequences or cause and effect. Additionally, you might read The Giving Tree to talk about the selfishness of the young boy or the sacrificial love of the tree. It’s easy to see the themes in children’s literature and share them with our young children. Why is it that we don’t capitalize on this same idea with our teens?
Naturally, the themes in the books that they read as they grow up become harder to define, because they are less obvious to the reader. It takes time to work and think in order to draw out the deeper ideas. Often students walk away from a book bored not because it wasn’t a very good book, but because it was too hard to enjoy on their own. That is why we have to keep having conversations about books with our teens.
Universal Themes In Stories
Even though you might be reading books from several different genres, the underlying themes are universal no matter what type of story you encounter. Here are some common themes:
- Good vs. Evil
- Nature of God
You can find prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird (historical fiction), Out of the Silent Planet (science fiction), or Pride and Prejudice (romance). While the three contain very different story lines, they all bring a deeper understanding to the reader on the ideas of prejudice.
Why Theme Is Important In Literature
One of the reasons that reading great literature is so fulfilling is that we resonate with the characters in the stories. While our situation might be different, the experience is similar. The themes give weight to the book because important ideas are being discussed that are relevant to our very lives. Themes delve into what it means to be human.
One can easily get lost in a book as they watch a character deal with a situation that is familiar. How will Scout respond to the prejudice she encounters when her father becomes the target of hate as a result of his choice to defend a black man? If our students aren’t able to identify these themes, they’re missing out on the richness of wisdom that flows from the pages.
Drawing Themes Out In Discussion
If you’d like to help your student draw out the bigger ideas in a story, start with a conversation. If you’re unsure yourself, print off this list of universal themes and think together. Then ask some questions about the story to see if you can discover what theme the author wanted to convey.
- What does the main character think is important?
- Do their ideas change?
- What does the conflict center around?
Sometimes it’s helpful to uncover the author’s worldview in order to help identify what ideas they were trying to communicate. You can use a book like An Invitation to the Classics to get some background information on the author and deeper insights into the work.
Do I Sense A Theme Here?
Just like a nagging parent, an author will repeat the theme many times throughout whatever story line they’ve laid out. When you find out what the author keeps coming back to, you’ll have unlocked the theme. With this information, you’ll be able to once again have those great conversations about stories that bring conceptual ideas to life.