Revision Guide: What is a Theme?

Welcome to Part Four of our Revision Guide for IGCSE & GCSE English Language. What is a Theme? Common Themes: Family Power Revenge Coming of Age Suffering Isolation Love Society Technology Nature Money Fate Chance Loss Death Renewal Loneliness Friendship

A theme is woven into the text. A text may contain more than one theme. Major Themes are found throughout the text. Minor Themes are found in only some parts of the text.


Why is the theme important?

The theme is really important because it is the underlying reason why the text has been written. It is the idea/opinion/special insight which the writer wishes to share with the reader. These ideas usually transcend cultural differences & explore fundamental & universal truths. Universal themes explore & touch upon shared human experiences. Love Greed Suffering Revenge Fate Loneliness Technology Love Chance Nature Coming of Age Money Family


Universal human experiences of love...

and loss.


Universal themes give the text an extra rich layer of meaning. Universal themes speak & resonate personally with the reader. Childhood War Love Friendship The Passage of Time

Peace War Society Isolation New Beginnings Fate Power Money Family Love Innocence



Explicit-To state clearly

Implicit-Only implied, not stated clearly, underlying, hinted at, suggested

Infer-To deduce or conclude from evidence in the text & your personal response

Literary Techniques-E.g. simile, metaphor, personification (See Revision Guide 2 & 3)

Literary Elements- E.g. plot, setting, characters (See Revision Guide 2 & 3)

Motif- A collection of repeated images & symbols in a text which help to develop & reveal the theme.

Theme-The main idea or message in a text or extract.


How do I find the theme?

Sometimes you don't have to! Sometimes the writer explicitly highlights the theme.


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

This bold & direct statement is the opening line of Anna Karenina. Tolstoy explicitly highlights one of the novel's main themes, families.


Exam questions will often directly & explicitly refer to a particular theme.


The opposite of an explicit theme is an implicit theme.

Explicit=clearly stated

Implicit=hidden, underlying, hinted at, suggested


Themes are not always made explicit by the writer or the exam question. Themes are often implicit. Many writers only gently hint at their theme. Even when a writer has explicitly exposed a theme it is also developed & explored implicitly throughout the text.


Themes are developed & expressed through:

  • Individual words/images & symbols used in the text.

  • The Literary Techniques (images, similes, personification etc) used in the text.

  • The Literary Elements (plot, setting, mood, characters etc) used in the text.

A theme grows & develops organically throughout the text. In a short extract it is often difficult to spot the theme. When the theme isn't clear you must infer.


Become a literary detective & infer the theme.

To infer is to read between the lines. To feel what the theme may be. Your personal response is important here. What do you think the theme could be? Support your personal response with evidence from the text.

When the theme is clear there is no need to infer, but you must still find the evidence in the text which supports the theme.

In both cases find the clues..find the evidence...find the Motif!


What is a motif? Motifs are reoccurring words/images, symbols, literary elements & techniques.

Find the reoccurring motif & you have found the theme.

The motif develops & reveals the theme.


How to find a motif

1 Read the text 2 Highlight & annotate the text

(see Revision Guide part three: How to analyse Literary Techniques)

3 Look for any repeated images & symbols.

5 Make a Motif Mind Map = showing only the repeated images & symbols

Include only Repeating & Reoccurring:

  • individual images & words

  • images & symbols used in the literary techniques & literary elements



Repeated images & symbolism = Motif = Theme

A Motif is a collection of reoccurring images & symbols which gradually develop through out the text or extract, which ultimately reveal the theme. The theme is the main idea or message within the text or extract.


For Top Marks Look for Contrast!

Writers often use two contrasting themes in a text. This contrast makes the themes even more powerful & vivid. Contrast further enriches the text, making it even more exciting & compelling for the reader.


Nature & Technology

Old & New

Unrequited Love & Attainable Love

Love & Loss

Revenge & Forgiveness

War & Peace


If you have any questions or would like to book a lesson with us please click here.

Thank you for reading. Have a good week!

Next time in Part 5 we will revise Settings.

Look out for our Literary Devices Revision Quiz. Coming Soon!




Copyright March 2017 Brigid's English Center


#LiteraryTerms #Revision #RevisionGuide

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