Thematic Elements in Literature

In modern literary studies, a motif is a central point, recurrent theme, or central message in a story. Themes are usually identified by the predominant recurrent idea within the work. A theme is said to have several meanings within the literature; however, it is most commonly associated with the theme of a story. The themes of literature most often relate to some central notion of human life, such as psychology, sociology, history, art, literature, or religion.

Thematic dictionaries provide examples of the most common themes in literature. They highlight works that explore themes such as love, ambition, philosophy, courage, miracles, education, country, war, beauty, literature, genius, and beauty. These are just some of the more common themes, but the list is growing daily. These definitions can help students identify the various themes explored in literature by helping them decide which literary works they enjoy reading.

A theme may also be identified by the time period in which it is found, for example, ancient Greece has a plethora of recurring themes, such as gods, warfare, magic, and epic. Similarly, ancient China had a plethora of themes, including animal and nature myths, chivalry, history, mythological figures, celestial beings, and heaven. In literature, themes are sometimes described as a “unity,” or a “coherence.” For instance, in Moby Dick, Herman Melville repeatedly uses the words “sea-monsters” and “fierce-sea monsters.” This shows a consistent theme of man’s exploration of the supernatural while fighting against sea-monsters.

Another common factor among thematic concepts in literature is the extent to which the theme suggests a psychological, emotional, cultural, or other aspect of the author’s experience. For instance, in Jane Austen’s “ides of Novels,” the theme of love is explored through the psychological experiences of the main characters. The same is true for ancient mythology, which often included themes of hope and power. A third example comes from Charles Dickens’s novels, where the themes of greed, power, pity, revenge, and retribution pervade the entire story.

Thematic elements in literature are also related to how the themes are presented. When a series of thematic statements all address the same basic issue, such as plot development, the thematic theme can simply be presented as a larger theme or as a major point that dominates the piece. However, when different characters are placed in different parts of the text, the thematic statements have more meaning. As an example, Dickens’s character, Ebenezer Scrooge, repeatedly says, “I must see to my sea-shore to-day.”

In addition, themes in literature can overlap. A common example is the theme of death, which is presented throughout the book by different characters. Death is the central theme of the book, but throughout the story it’s expressed by different characters. Each character’s attitude, motivation, and environment help determine what he or she ultimately ends up saying. Thus, the theme of death ties together a number of different thematic concepts. It’s this very interplay among the characters that helps to structure a story.