Think about what meaning the author wants us to derive from the story.

  • Look at the title for clues. What does it mean? Could it have symbolic value?
  • What is the primary concern of the main character? Is it the same or related to the conflict in the story? This usually points to the theme.
  • Does the protagonist (main character) change in any way over the course of the story? Do you come to any realisation or insight about the character by the end?
  • Does the narrator or the main character offer any general observations about life?
  • Are there any mysterious or striking features (objects, characters, cultural or mythical references, etc.) that remain unexplained? These may have symbolic value.
  • Are there recurrent motifs? Colours, natural elements, gestures, words?
  • Is there a particular mood?
  • How does the story end? Is the outcome for the main character(s) good or bad? Is there clear resolution to the conflict? Reread the last few lines very carefully.

In general:

  • It can be very difficult to figure out the theme!
  • It expresses the meaning or an idea behind the text; it is usually abstract. It might be the moral of the story (but not all stories have a simple moral).
  • It should encompass the entire text (rather than be true of just one character or one aspect of the plot; does not contradict other aspects of the story).
  • It should express a general truth or idea that goes beyond the particular text. That is, it should not mention any specific aspects of the text, though it still involves the problem of the text.
  • Try to express the theme as a complete sentence. (Don’t cheat with “The theme is _____________________”)