Literary Elements


The big idea about life or human nature that is conveyed by a literary work. For example: friendship. Themes are expressed through feelings of the main character, thoughts and conversations, thoughts that are repeated, what the main character learns, or actions or events.

How Authors Express Themes

1.      Themes are expressed and emphasized by the way the author makes us feel. By sharing feelings of the main character you also share the ideas that go through his mind.

2.      Themes are presented in thoughts and conversations. Authors put words in their character’s mouths only for good reasons. One of these is to develop a story’s themes. The things a person says are much on their mind. Look for thoughts that are repeated throughout the story.

3.      Themes are suggested through the characters. The main character usually illustrates the most important theme of the story. A good way to get at this theme is to ask yourself the question, what does the main character learn in the course of the story?

4.      The actions or events in the story are used to suggest theme. People naturally express ideas and feelings through their actions. One thing authors think about is what an action will “say.” In other words, how will the action express an idea or theme?

Download as handout: How Authors Express Themes

Theme & Thematic Statements

The big idea about life or human nature that is conveyed by a literary work.

Example theme:  friendship

Example thematic statement: Friendship is more enduring than material wealth.

Other common themes and thematic statements in literature


  1. examples: Greedy people often suffer calamities.
  2. examples: Jealous people often feel badly about themselves.


  1. examples: Beauty is only skin deep. It’s what’s inside that counts most.


  1. examples: Everyone feels lonely at times.


  1. examples: Betrayal is a sign of selfishness.


  1. examples: Love can solve most problems. Love is mightier than hate


  1. examples: Courageous people don’t seek fame, they seek what’s right.


  1. examples: Loyalty is often rewarded. Sometimes loyalty requires great sacrifice.

Duty (filial piety)

  1. examples: It’s proper to work to bring honor to your family.


  1. examples: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!


  1. examples: Everyone experiences fear. It’s how you react to it that counts.


  1. examples: People’s actions and judgments reflect their upbringing or attitudes.


  1. examples: Freedom is worth dying for. It should be protected at all costs.


  1. examples: People who endure suffering with dignity have strong moral character.


  1. examples: Fame and fortune don’t always guarantee happiness.


  1. examples: Sometimes the truth hurts. Being truthful with one’s friends is important.

Download as handout: Theme def. and examples handout

“Thematic statements” are an opinion you have about a specific story and it’s theme. If you read “Cinderella” you will find a LOT of themes. One theme could be “justice.” A thematic statement you could make might be: “Bad people usually are punished for their wrongdoings.”

A thematic statement is a beginning to a literary response on theme. NOT an end. When writing about theme, it’s best to identify the author and title of the work followed by a theme you feel is present in the story. Next, follow up with a thematic statement and structure the rest of your response to supporting what you have stated.

Check out Albert P.’s theme paragraphs. Be sure to look at the first draft and the “revised” draft. You will notice a BIG difference between the two.

Draft 1 Albert P. theme extra credit

Draft 2  Albert P. theme extra credit revised


A person, place, or object which has a meaning in itself but suggests other meanings as well is called a “symbol.” Things, characters, and actions can be symbols. Anything that suggests a meaning beyond the obvious can be a symbol. Some symbols are conventional (standard or typical), generally meaning the same thing to ALL readers. For example: bright sunshine symbolizes goodness and water is a symbolic cleaner.

Check out the short film “Teclopolis” and see if you can identify any symbols.

Check out the short film “Gulp” and see if you can identify any symbols.

Check out the short film “Dot” and see if you can identify any symbols.


Motif is a reappearing idea or event in a story that leads us to better understand what an author is trying to see. Motif is like the rung of a ladder: by climbing the rungs and focusing on them, we can reach the theme at the top of the ladder.

Example of a written paragraph concerning motif:

Motif in The Phantom Tollbooth
In chapter 8 of the novel The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Milo receives a gift from the king that will help him. The king tells Milo about the gift saying “there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is use them (gifts) well and in the right places.” Juster uses the gift as a motif. The gift is a box filled with all the words known to man.  This is a motif because Milo has received other gifts. Each gift leads Milo to new knowledge. The king’s gift teaches Milo that he can learn to overcome his obstacles in his life. This motif goes with a theme of knowledge. Knowledge when used well can conquer anything.