Theme in Literature

Literary Analysis #2: Theme in Literature


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Introduction:According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a theme in general terms is defined as the subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person’s thoughts, or an exhibition, a topic.  A musical piece contains a theme; a speech contains a theme; a work of art contains a theme. In literature, specifically, theme is considered to be a literary device, a tool that a writer uses when creating a literary work.

The theme of a literary work is the main idea or an underlying meaning, which may be stated directly or indirectly. As a literary device, theme binds together various elements of a narrative and is often a universal truth, standing true for people of all cultures. Through themes, a writer tries to give readers an insight into human beings and what it means to be human.

Theme gives readers a better understanding of the main character’s conflicts, experiences, discoveries, and emotions. Readers can identify themes by examining plot, characterization and the major conflict in stories while also noting important symbols in the story.


Course Objectives Fulfilled by the Assignment:

  1. Identify and apply literary terms, techniques, concepts, and aesthetic criteria to the evaluation of literary works.
  2. Evaluate literary texts and genres within their historical, philosophical, or cultural contexts as part of the human experience.
  3. Summarize, analyze, and synthesize diverse readings including multidisciplinary academic articles, essays, literary works, or other relevant genres.
  4. Differentiate relevant evidence throughout all writing tasks, including written texts, visual images, electronic media, and such primary sources as observations, interviews, and surveys.
  5. Use a variety of writing and revision strategies for generating, revising, editing, and proofreading writing.
  6. Determine logical arguments and stylistic approaches appropriate to form or genre of writing: transitional language, progressive development of ideas, etc.


Directions: For this second and final formal essay, you will write a 3-4 page literary analysis examining the ways in which one writer uses one literary device to convey one particular theme in a literary work. In your essay, you will follow the MLA formatand the structure of a literary analysis, including a thesis. Your introduction should reveal the title of the story that you will be analyzing while your thesis should answer the following questions:


  • What theme will you examine in your essay? What is the significance of the theme in the story?
  • How does the literary device of your choice help to express the theme?


For instance, if you decide to write about the theme of imagination and knowledge in “The Mark on the Wall,” you may write about Woolf’s use of symbolism to express the idea that imagination is more important to a person’s well-being than knowledge. If you decide to write about the relationship between the creator and creation in R.U.R., you may explore Capek’s use of character to convey the idea that creations tend to reject their creators. In other words, you will be analyzing the ways in which a writer uses a particular literary device to shape and express a particular theme.


For your analysis, you may choose to write about one theme and story from the following list:

  • Imagination and Knowledge in Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall”
  • War and Displacement in “The Mark on the Wall”
  • Class Division in Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”
  • Innocence and Experience in “The Garden Party”
  • The Artist and the Audience in Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist”
  • Spiritual Longing in “A Hunger Artist”
  • Parents and Children in “Indian Camp”
  • Innocence and Experience in “Indian Camp”
  • Love and Duty in “Eveline”
  • Fear in “Eveline”
  • Creator and Creation in Karel Capek’s U.R.
  • Rebellion in U.R.


To choose a particular literary device, return to the list of literary devices posted in “Reading Guides.” Also, keep in mind that writers usually use plot, character and conflict to express the theme as well as symbolism.


Important Dates

December 4: We’ll meet with tutors from the Writing Center from 2-2:50 p.m. via Blackboard Collaborate in a mandatory tutoring session (I will provide instructions and the Collaborate link before our session). The tutors will provide critical feedback for the revision process. Also, post your rough draft anytime to the class wiki labeled “Literary Analysis #2.”
December 5: Respond to one of your peers’ rough drafts on the class wiki by 8 p.m. Remember, your constructive feedback will guide your peer during the revision process.

December 10: Final draft submitted anytime to “Turnitin.”


The Essay’s Format

You’ll use the MLA (Modern Language Association) format for academic essays. Once again, MLA has several requirements:

  • A heading on the top left-hand side of the page. The heading should include your first and last name on the top line; the professor’s name on the second line; the course number on the third line; and the day, month, and year of the essay’s due date on the fourth line.
  • The title is centered but not in bold print or italics.
  • Double-spacing. This makes it easier for your reader to write comments or fix errors above the lines.
  • Each page is numbered on the top right-hand side and includes your last name.
  • One-inch margins on the top, bottom, left, and right-hand sides of the paper. By doing this, you’re inviting the reader to annotate.
  • Times New Roman 12 pt. font. An easy font to read that doesn’t distract from the essay’s subject matter.
  • An eye-catching title. Connect your title to the main idea of your essay, while telling the reader which texts (and their authors) your essay will analyze.
  • In-text citations. In-text citations are necessary when you use outside sources. Be sure to give parenthetical information after the direct quotations; parenthetical information should include the author’s last name and page number(s) that indicate where we can find the quotation in the primary source.
  • Works Cited page. In-text citations work hand-in-hand with the works cited page. The works cited page includes a list of sources that you quote directly, summarize and/or paraphrase in your essay. The list reveals detailed publication information about the sources.


Writing Tips

  • Review your journal entries and discussion board posts; you’ve probably already written about one or more of the themes listed above. You may use this writing as the springboard for your essay.
  • In addition, go to “Writing Guides” on the menu and review the videos on the structure of a literary analysis, the rhetorical devices, key ingredients of the introduction, and the MEAL body paragraph format. You may also review the videos on particular literary devices to aid you in your analysis.
  • Be sure to review the sample student essays for Literary Analysis #2in “Writing Guides.” Reviewing a peer’s essay can give you a good idea of how to approach the assignment as well as how to revise your work based on the rubric’s criteria.


Important Note: While I will not be reading the rough drafts for this essay, revision is still a critical component of the writing process in our course. Therefore, posting your draft to the class wiki is mandatory. Also, the tutoring session on December 4 from 2-2:50 p.m. is mandatory. If you cannot attend this session, please email me immediately, so that we may work together to schedule an appointment for you to work with a tutor on your own time. Keep in mind that working with a tutor will not only give you the opportunity to craft a finely tuned essay but will also contribute five points to your grade for this essay as part of the revision process.

In addition, posting your essay on the class wiki and providing constructive criticism to a peer are crucial components of the writing process; posting your work and providing feedback contribute an additional five points to your essay. In total, revision and constructive criticism contribute ten points to your work. Don’t throw away ten points simply because you will not write a rough draft, attend a tutoring session, post to the class wiki, and provide constructive criticism to your peer.


A Reminder about Late Submissions

No late submissions will be accepted. If you are struggling with the essay, please speak with me as soon as possible.


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