What is the Theme of a Story?

It’s easy to define “theme” but just knowing its definition doesn’t mean it’s easy to figure out what the theme is in a story! The theme of a story is the story’s central point. But what does that mean exactly? Let’s take a look at what a theme is and how you can find it in a story!

Is it a Theme or is Part of the Plot?

To identify the theme in a story, it can be helpful to think about why the author wrote the story. Be careful to not get this confused with the plot! The plot tells you what the author wrote but not why. For example, John Green wrote “The Fault In Our Stars” about two teenagers with cancer that fall in love. That’s the plot of the story but not the theme!

To figure out the theme, think about why John Green would write about this topic. It might help you think about the theme of a story by asking yourself, “The author wrote this book because they wanted me to understand ___________.” For “The Fault In Our Stars” the answer might look something like this: “John Green wants me to understand that life isn’t fair.”

How is a Story’s Theme Different Than the Moral of a Story?

Theme and moral are often confused. The main difference between a theme and a moral is that a story’s moral tells you how to behave but a story’s theme just asks you to think about something.

If you have read any of Aesop’s Fables, you know that they all include a moral. The famous fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” teaches you that you shouldn’t rush because “slow and steady wins the race”! This is a moral because it is telling you what to think and how to behave.  In “The Fault in Our Stars”, the theme that life is unfair isn’t telling you how you should act, it’s just giving you something to think about!

Morals are often said directly at the end of a story as well, while themes usually aren’t said directly. For example, John Green could have ended the book with a moral like, “love people while they are around because they won’t be around forever.”

How Do You Find the Theme of a Story?

If you are still having trouble figuring out what the theme is in a story— start analyzing the main conflict in the story! What caused the main problem in the story? What was the outcome of the story? Why would the author choose that outcome for the story’s conflict?

For example, in “The Fault In Our Stars” the main conflict is that Hazel and Augustus are in love but Hazel could die from cancer. The outcome (stop reading if you don’t want a spoiler on the ending of the book!) is that Augustus is actually the one to die from cancer. This is a plot twist because the reader was expecting Hazel to die but not Augustus. Why would John Green make that the ending of the story? Because he wants you to understand that life’s not fair!

And there you go, there is the story’s theme!