THEME (source: Perrine, L. 1987, Story and Structure) adapted sfox
3 Essential Issues
1. What is it?
2. How can I state it?
3. How can I prove it?
1. What is it? Definition: “The theme of a piece of literature is its controlling idea or its central
insight. It is the unifying generalization about life stated or implied in the [literature]. To derive the
theme of a story, we must ask what its central purpose is: what view of life it supports or what
insight into life it reveals” (p.108).
2. How can I state it? There are several principles involved in correctly stating theme:
“Theme must be expressible in the form of a statement with a subject and predicate” (p.113).
For example
X Motherhood
√ Motherhood sometimes creates frustrations but also has numerous rewards.
3. It is important not to make the generalization larger than is justified by the terms of the literature.
“Terms like every, all, always, should be used very cautiously; terms like, some, sometimes, are often
more accurate” (p.113).
4. “Theme is the central and unifying concept of the story. If we cannot explain the bearing of an
important incident or character on the theme … it is probable that our interpretation is partial or
incomplete” (p.113).
-Theme must account for all major details of the story.
-Theme must not be contradicted by any detail of the story.
-Theme must not rely on supposed facts. The facts must be in the story (p.113)
5. “There is no one way of stating theme… The story presents a view of life … that may be expressed
in different ways” (p.114).
-“A sensitive, creative individual … may find it difficult to cope with the realities of life” (p.114).
-Sometimes, being confronted with numerous difficulties causes a person to become despondent.
6. “Avoid any statement which reduces the theme to a familiar saying that we have heard all of our
lives [a cliché] such as “You can’t judge a book by its cover” (p.114). This could be reworded as
“The outward appearance of an individual may not provide sufficient information with which to
judge his character.”
7. How Can I Prove It?
Read the Passage AND Read the Notes which follow:
Claudius / Source:
Hamlet’s major antagonist is a shrewd, lustful, conniving king who contrasts sharply with the
other male characters in the play. Whereas most of the other important men in Hamlet are
preoccupied with ideas of justice, revenge, and moral balance, Claudius is bent upon maintaining
his own power. The old King Hamlet was apparently a stern warrior, but Claudius is a corrupt
politician whose main weapon is his ability to manipulate others through his skillful use of
language. Claudius’s speech is compared to poison being poured in the ear—the method he used
to murder Hamlet’s father. Claudius’s love for Gertrude may be sincere, but it also seems likely
that he married her as a strategic move, to help him win the throne away from Hamlet after the
death of the king. As the play progresses, Claudius’s mounting fear of Hamlet’s insanity leads
him to ever greater self-preoccupation; when Gertrude tells him that Hamlet has killed Polonius,
Claudius does not remark that Gertrude might have been in danger, but only that he would have
been in danger had he been in the room. He tells Laertes the same thing as he attempts to soothe
the young man’s anger after his father’s death. Claudius is ultimately too crafty for his own
good. In Act V, scene ii, rather than allowing Laertes only two methods of killing Hamlet, the
sharpened sword and the poison on the blade, Claudius insists on a third, the poisoned goblet.
When Gertrude inadvertently drinks the poison and dies, Hamlet is at last able to bring himself to
kill Claudius, and the king is felled by his own cowardly machination.
THEME: Look at these 3 areas:
1. Main Character:
2. Main Conflict:
3. Conflict Resolution
Seeks to become King (is not heir to throne)
Fails and dies from his own poison
Thematic Statement: When an individual is corrupt and perpetrates evil, he shall be caught in the end.
Supporting a Thematic Statement Using the Sandwich Technique:
1,2,3, Introduce & Quote & Explain
Claudius is a selfish and foolish leader. In a corrupt fashion, he starts a chain of death in Hamlet’s Kingdom
by murdering his brother, King Hamlet Senior. His behavior shows that when one is corrupt and
perpetrates evil, he ultimately destroys himself. His poison spreads forth to engulf all when he pours
poison into his brother’s ear. The poison spreads throughout the kingdom drawing in the innocent and
unsuspecting. Thus, Claudius becomes his own murderer, and in the final moments of his own life he
allows Laertes, Gertrude and Hamlet to be poisoned too.