Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Get to the Point!

Let’s start out by imagining a situation. Here’s a teen girl, Lisa, talking to her mother. She says things like, ‘Come on mom, everybody has one.’ ‘You’ll be able to keep track of me. I’ll actually be safer with one,’ and ‘It has a calculator on it, so I can use it in math class.’ Lisa’s mom says, ‘Just get to the point!’

Lisa is trying to convince her mother to buy her a smartphone. The central idea, or main point, of her argument could be simply stated as, ‘I would like for you to buy me a smartphone.’ The central idea isn’t hard to figure out, especially when you think of how important central ideas are to our everyday communication.

Well, literature has central ideas, too. Stories, novels, plays, and poems all have themes, ideas about life that the author is trying to express. Let’s start figuring out themes by looking at some stories that you’ve grown up reading.

Finding Theme in Fables

A great place to start when you’re thinking about themes is with fables. Fables are short stories, usually about talking animals, that teach a lesson. Since fables teach a lesson, you know they have a theme; after all, themes are really just lessons about life!

Think back to that classic, The Tortoise and the Hare. In that famous story, you have a rabbit and a turtle racing each other. The turtle just clonks along, one foot in front of the other, while the rabbit runs as fast as, well, as fast as a rabbit! The rabbit brags a lot, stops to mock the turtle, and eventually gets so far ahead that he takes a nap. While he’s napping, the turtle passes him and crosses the finish line.

You know the moral of the story, ‘Slow and steady wins the race.’ The author is trying to express an idea about life – that it’s better to be humble and persistent than to be arrogant and rush through things. Since that’s an idea about life expressed by the author, that’s the theme of the fable.

Here’s another one: the fable of The Lion and the Mouse. Big, bad lion catches a mouse, but decides to let him go rather than eat him. Later, when hunters have trapped the lion, the mouse sneaks up, gnaws through the ropes, and sets the lion free. Aesop, the author of the fable, stated that the theme of this fable is, ‘Little friends may prove great friends.’ He just means don’t underestimate people; even someone small can be a big help in the right situation.

Finding Themes in Literature

Now that you’ve had some practice with fables, let’s define a theme from a work of literature that is commonly read in eighth grade. One selection is the play version of The Diary of Anne Frank. It’s a gripping story of a Jewish girl hiding from Nazis, but it’s also the story of a teen girl who is trying to figure out the world. She has mama-drama and boy problems, and she feels close to her dad, but she doesn’t want to tell him all her girl problems.

A theme for this play is ‘It’s lonely being a teenager.’ Now, that’s only one of several themes, and it’s not the most Earth-shattering revelation, but it’s a clear statement of truth about life that the author wants to express. Anne Frank wrote the book that was the basis for the play. She was a teen girl when she wrote it, and she came to realize that the teen years are lonely years because it’s hard to connect with your family.

Lesson Summary

Central ideas and themes are the same thing – the big points that are being made about life. The fable of The Tortoise and the Hare has a lesson to teach about life: slow and steady wins the race. The fable of The Lion and the Mouse expresses the idea that we shouldn’t count anyone out, even if they’re small. Every piece of literature you read, whether it’s a poem, story, play, or novel, has a theme, and often they have more than one. One theme in The Diary of Anne Frank: A Play is that the teen years are lonely years. So now, if someone asks you about the author’s life lesson in a story, you know they’re just asking about the story’s theme.

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