The theme is the core of meaning in the story. If we 'dive' under the surface of the story and find what we believe is the writer's real intention, what the story is really about, we are probably getting close to the theme. Whenever we are to interpret a piece of text, a novel, shortstory, a poem, etc., we must read it carefully, often several times, and then ask ourselves - What is this really about? What is the author's real intention with this text? Does the text have any general message, a 'deeper' meaning, indicating something 'beyond'? If you are not able to give a good answer to this, you shouldn't go ahead interpreting the text. If you do - you'll just end up with a bag full of empty words and phrases.|
In Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men' we meet two farm hands, George and Lenni, and follow them through their life and problems at a Californian ranch. Just writing a story about these two guys was obviously not Steinbeck's main idea. He was rather motivated by the daily life of mid-western farm hands in general to introduce one (or several) plot(s) to illuminate the theme.
What is 'Of Mice and Men' really about, then? What is the theme?
One suggestion might be that the story is really about some kind of dream. Perhaps it is really about the 'American Dream' - or - perhaps about the kind of dream that we all must have in order to survive, the kind of dream which never (or seldom) comes true??
Or - perhaps you find the theme of the story to be something else ?! The novel 'Animal Farm' by George Orwell may just be read as an exciting story about some animals taking over a farm. Period !
If you, however, start asking the questions mentioned above, you are trying to find the theme of the novel. This might give answers like:
Animal Farm is the description and criticism of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and how political ideals collapse, giving way to tyranny, written by a disillusioned Socialist.
Animal Farm is about revolutions in general + the broken promises, etc. mentioned above.
The theme of Animal Farm is to show how absolute power eventually corrupts people.
Obviously, the search for a decent theme will have to involve you in a process of abstraction. The theme is usually expected to be something very general which you should try to present as concentrated as possible. Do also remember that a theme should represent the entire piece of text, not only one (or a few) part(s) of it.
In your search for the theme you should try to make an approach through the main plot.
Does the plot account for a more unlimited and general understanding?
In Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' the plot is the growing conflict between the children on the abandoned island with the Third World War as a kind of background. It is easily understood that Golding wants to tell the reader someting more than just an exciting story about some kids on an island. Perhaps this story is really about more general and serious aspects of human life? Could it be a story about the dark sides of human minds, and the struggle between good and evil forces within every one of us?
If so, how is this revealed through the characters, the setting, the plot, etc. ?
This is the way to work! Try to suggest one or several themes, and check out whether it is supported by the other tools the writer has used.
Please, do remember one very important thing!!!
Every reader has the right to suggest and defend his/her own personal theme. There doesn't exist any key answer to the question about the theme. Of course it is convenient to apply the theme you might get, e.g. from your teacher, but be aware of the fact that your teacher does not have any kind of exclusive right to decide what the theme might be.
The really important thing is that you are able to find support for your suggestion throughout the story/poem. Don't worry, be happy! - and think about the process of interpretation as a kind of intellectual crossword. Then it will prove to be both funny, interesting and rewarding.
The setting of a narrative or a dramatic work is the general locale and the historical time, the place and time, in which it occurs.|
In short: Where and When the story takes place
The general setting of Macbeth, for example, is medieval Scotland, and the setting for the scene in which Macbeth comes upon the witches is a blasted heath.
Changes of the setting throughout the story might be important. Try to find the relevance this might have to your interpretation.
In 'Lord of the Flies' the setting is dramatically changed as the children set fire to the vegetation of the island. This will obviously turn the paradise island with its abundance of food into a wasteland. Is this a warning from the author about what will happen with our earth if we are not able to defeat the dark, destructive forces within ourselves?
Characters are the invented, imaginary persons in a dramatic or narrative work, which are given human qualities and behaviour.
What should you find out about the character(s)???
The plot of a novel usually means the tensions which are the 'fuel' of the story. This might often involve some kind of conflict.|
The chief character of a work is called the protagonist or hero, and if pitted against an important opponent, that character is called an antagonist. Hamlet is the protagonist, and King Claudius is the antagonist in Shakespeare's play, and the relation between them is one of conflict, thereby constituting a plot.
Many, but far from all, plots deal with a conflict.
In addition to the conflict between individuals, there may be the conflict of a protagonist against fate, or against the circumstances that stand between him and a goal he has set himself; and in some works, the conflict is between opposing desires or values in a character's own mind.
In 'Animal Farm' the plot might be seen as the conflict and tensions between the conservatives' desire to keep everything the way it is, and the radical animals' revolutionary activities aimed at creating a new and better world.
When discussing the main plot of Animal Farm, one should consider seven main turning-points:
In general - The position from which something is viewed (very often biased)|
In fiction every narative has to have a narrator! Pretty obvious, isn't it?
Point of view refers to the way in which a narrator approaches his material (characters, action, setting, etc.) and his audience.
Whose eyes do we see the story through, whose minds do we enter, and whose thoughts and emotions do we share?
The writers choice of point of view is extremely important, as it to a large extent actually decides how the reader is to experience and comprehend the characters, action, etc.
These are the most used points of view:
Who speaks? Is the narrator (a) an imaginary omniscient observer ? (third person narrator) or (b) a character in the story?? (first-person narrator)
If (a), does the narrator address the reader and comment on events (intrusive narrator) or does he observe impartially and without intruding his opinions? Does he just 'tell' the story or 'show it', letting events speak for themselves? (3rd pers. objective)
Does the narrator limit or focus knowledge through any particular character or characters (limited point of view)?
To avoid misunderstandings, Norwegian readers should compare the set of English points of view with the Norwegian one.
By the term 'style' in fiction, we mean the author's manner of using language. When concidering the 'style' we might check:|
Furthermore, it is very important to determine whether the style in any way echoes or illustrates the content (meaning/theme).
This term is used to indicate the author's emotional attitude as presented in the story. It may be ironic, romantic, mysterious, impassioned, serious, etc. |
The tone can be determined by a consideration of the facts presented in the story and the details picked out to describe them, and even more importantly, by the style.
The most serious mistake that you can make is simply to paraphrase the plot of the text, which means that you are just 'retelling' the story in your own words. This is never what you are expected to do at upper secondary/university level.|
What we are interested in is interpretation and discussion of different aspects of the work. If you are supposed to discuss the theme of the story, your analysis must focus on the aspects of the story which obviously have to do about that. You should then refer to the text (and what happens there) to examplify and prove your arguments.
It is really undesireable to suggest any pattern for the interpretation of literature! If you, however, feel a bit inexperienced, you might try to discuss the story you are supposed to interpret in this way:
If you want to include links to different parts of this document in your own production you may find it convenient to apply the targets below (the syntax could be: 'http://www.saltdal.vgs.no/engfict.htm#Theme' try it!):