Themes in Literature: Examples and Explanation

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Themes in literature are the important life lessons conveyed by the writer. Understand how to identify themes in literature through examples from 'The Monkey's Paw,' 'Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,' and 'Flowers for Algernon.' Updated: 10/20/2021

Life Lessons

Imagine this scene. An old man has you cornered at a family reunion. From the looks of him, he's been around since the 1800s. He looks you in the eye, pops in the dentures, and starts rambling about how in his day he had to walk to school - uphill, five miles, in the snow. He's not just yammering on to explain the differences between modern school systems and the education of yesteryear; he's got a point to make. The theme, or important lesson about life, that he's trying to say is 'be thankful for what you have.' You see, the only reason he brings up all those details about how hard life was for him as a child is to prompt you to be consciously thankful for not having those daily hardships.

Themes aren't only found in these types of tales; they're found in all stories. So when your teacher asks you about the theme of a piece of literature, whether that's a story or a play or whatever, she's asking you to tell her about one of the important life lessons you learned from reading the story. To help you understand better, I'm going to give you three examples of themes found in some of the most commonly read stories in middle school. By the end of the lesson, you should be ready to tackle some stories on your own!

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  • 0:01 Life Lessons
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First Example - The Monkey's Paw

This first one is an awesome story - The Monkey's Paw. In it, a man gets a shriveled, supposedly-magical monkey's paw that he's told will grant wishes. He jokingly wishes for a bunch of money, and later that day he gets a knock on his door and learns that his son has been killed at work and the company is paying the family a bunch of money for their loss. The story follows up with a couple more wishes that go wrong, and the theme of the story, the lesson about life, is, 'Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.' In other words, the reader should learn to consider all possible outcomes when making a decision, just as the father in the story should have done.

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