The theme of a story is not entirely obvious to the reader. It’s a concept that can be deduced from the story as a whole. It is essentially what the story is about and sometimes allows us to understand why the author may have written the story and what they were trying to achieve with it. A theme is a lesson to be learned, a perspective to explore, and an emotion to feel, and it is because of this abstract nature many struggles to understand exactly what a theme is. Stories with moral lessons are known as parables. However, an honest story that contains animals, plants, and objects to tell the tale is known as a fable. So, while the concepts are the same, the name changes depending on how this concept is executed.
A theme will stretch over the entirety of a story, and it’s common for an account to have more than one theme. These themes will be interwoven and help bring in different aspects of a story to make it more well-rounded. Using more than one theme in a story allows for deeper exploration and can add other dimensions to the narrative.
Common examples of themes in children’s stories
- Love: The theme of love is one of the most popularly used themes in literature. To some, love is the very meaning of life, so its appearance in art, from children’s stories to adult literature, is prolific. The theme of love is especially abundant in a lot of fairy tales. ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘Cinderella,’ and other similar stories all have a theme of true love in the form of a charming prince character. This theme is also apparent in classic works such as Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ where the characters die to be together. However, there are also familial and platonic love themes within many children’s stories that are just as important, such as C.S Lewis ‘The Chronicles of Narnia books, where the four protagonists are siblings, and their relationship is integral to the story.
- Good versus Evil: Good versus evil is another theme that appears throughout different art forms across the ages. This theme tends to be interwoven with other pieces, such as morality, heroism, and even judgment or justice in some cases. Popular examples of the music of good versus evil include stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, with Snow White being good and the Queen being the evil that is threatening her safety. ‘Hansel and Gretel is another example, with the Old Woman being the evil the children must escape from. For novels, J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a well-known children’s book series centered on the theme of good versus evil, as Harry and his friends must defeat the dark wizards that threaten the world.
- Self-Belief: As stated previously, a theme can sometimes manifest as a concept, but there are times when it manifests as a lesson. While a conceptual piece such as love can still be a lesson, such as the power of passion or the perseverance of love, some themes, such as believing in yourself, are a bit more obvious. A popular example of this is the story of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. After going through the journey to the Emerald City so that she may return home, it is revealed that she held power all along with her ruby slippers.
What is the importance of theme in storytelling?
The theme of a story has multiple purposes, and its importance may not be the same for the creator as it is for the audience. However, it’s this very subjectivity that gives themes their importance. Having a theme can open the floor for discussion of important topics. For example, the theme of morality and justice within a particular story can be a great approach to discussing what is moral and what is just in a larger sense and how we can relate to it in our lives. This way, themes are provocative and a fantastic method to get people to discuss complicated topics.
Relating a theme to a person’s experience is another important storytelling factor. Many people indulge in stories, movies, music, and art because they see a fragment of themselves. In this sense, themes are important for how they impact people and how people relate to them. Even if a story is an epic journey or battle, such as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, people relate to the themes that emerge from it, such as good versus evil, friendship, and loyalty.
Another benefit of using themes within a story is that it allows the author to tie together different narratives. Some books and stories contain multiple points of view, and using a central theme within this story is a fantastic way to bring these perspectives together. The characters could all be from different walks of life and never interact, but they are linked by a common theme: love, longing, wealth, or deceit. It works especially well with short story collections, as the entire collection can be summarised and connected by a central theme.
How to use themes in your own stories
Themes can be incorporated into your story in a multitude of ways. You may go into your story with a particular theme, or it may blossom throughout the writing process. However, if you are the former, there are some useful techniques you can use to ensure your theme is present. Here are a few:
- Symbolism: Symbols and motifs are efficient ways to ensure that your theme is present within a story. For example, the recurrence of a particular object signifies its importance in understanding the story more deeply. For example, if you want to explore the theme of time and the passage of time within your story, you may include a lot of different clocks and watches throughout the piece.
- Characters: Characters make a story much more active through action and dialogue, which can be utilized to portray certain themes. If you want to explore the theme of good versus evil, characters are a fantastic way to embody these archetypes and reflect your theme through their behavior. Utilizing characters allows for various possibilities and enables you to present themes effectively. It is especially useful if you want the added sense of relatability, as a reader may connect more with another human character than an animal or a fantastical creature.
- Setting: Utilising the setting of your stories can be an interesting method of presenting a certain theme. The setting creates an atmosphere for the story, whether in the geographical landscape or a specific period. The setting can also change throughout the story to mirror the theme. For example, in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,’ a story that explores the theme of good versus evil, when confronted with the threat of the Queen, the setting becomes darker and scarier, such as when she is running through the haunted wood. However, the setting is bright and welcoming when she is safe and surrounded by her companions.