A theme is an overarching message shown throughout a piece of literature or other type of media. And despite what you might have been taught in elementary/primary school, a theme is not the same thing as a moral—better known as the lesson of the story—though they can be similar. A theme most often uses a motif, such as a phrase or metaphor, used repeatedly to prove a point. The majority of a piece can be a theme for something, but they are most often found in smaller bits out of large pieces. A theme can also be what the story is about on an emotional or psychological level, but be sure to note the difference of a theme and a moral.
How do you FIND them?
The simplest way of finding themes is to simply read your piece slowly and carefully and maybe even read the piece twice. When reading, pay special attention to any scenes with high tension or when characters are introduced. I suggest highlighting sentences that sound familiar or feel repeated then continue to try and find those same kinds of phrases. Also be on the look out for repeated conflicts and subject matter!
As an easy to start off, read the summary of the piece carefully and look for words that set the mood of the story, like “loss” or “enlightening.” Reading the short reviews on the cover will help with that too. Look for phrases like “Jane Doe writes an emotional story about the human experience and overcoming a loss,” then, with this in mind, look for the textual proof to back it up.
However, remember that there can be several different themes in a book, and it might give your essay/project an added punch if you discuss a very subtle theme, but know that that will add more work on your part for proving its importance.
What KINDS of themes are there?
Here are some themes that I have found most often in the literature I’ve read in that last few years, in and out of class:
Loss of Innocence/Growing Up: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Light vs Darkness: Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
Natural Being/Order of Society: Anthem by Ayn Rand (sort of), the Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (pictured above), Antigone by Sophocles
False Identities/Misunderstandings: The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
(Over-) Indulgence: the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
(A good way to practice finding themes is by watching tv shows with overarching plots and looking for repeated conflicts. It doesn’t have to be a drama though! Even comedies can have themes! I suggest Downton Abbey for themes like The End of the World as We Know It and Friends for, well, Friendship/Family.)
What do they MEAN though?
A theme is most often woven into a story on purpose to emphasize something without having to spell it out in black and white. When William Shakespeare makes constant references to lightness and darkness, he is not commenting on shadows and how he needs a night light, he is showing that Romeo and Juliet are from two completely different worlds and maybe don’t belong together… or maybe they do?
Or sometimes authors will use it to draw the audience back to the first time the motif was used to analyze how the meaning of it has changed. When William Golding uses the word “savage” repeatedly, he is not saying, “Whoa! Look at those crazy boissss!” He is contrasting how the boys previously felt about living alone to how they are acting now.
Themes can be found anywhere: in literature and movies, of course, but also in paintings and music. (I suggest the works of Frida Kahlo and Lin-Manuel Miranda, respectively.) The secret to understanding themes is allowing yourself to feel vulnerable and open to the story and how the characters are feeling whenever the motif is used.
I hope this has helped all of you in some way—and please don’t hesitate to sending me an ask for further clarification! Also let me know if you’d like to see me going through a text and finding themes, etc.!
There’s something I’d like to say about Oscar Wilde. First of, Wilde used to be my favourite writer throughout my teens and he still holds a special place in my heart. Back when it was still possible, I even went to Paris and placed a rose at his grave. That’s how much I adore Wilde. I’m sure he did some problematic stuff. I actually know he did. He was a Victorian after all. But there’s this one thing that keeps happening over and over and I’d like to see it stop. “Oh my god, Oscar Wilde was so sexist.” That. That right there. I see this backed up with quotes like, “Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly.” I also see this quote and other sexist quotes attributed directly to Oscar Wilde on websites and such. But please, consider this:
Oscar Wilde never said this. You know who said this? Lord Henry Wotton did. “Who exactly is Lord Henry Wotton?”, you might ask. Well, Lord Henry Wotton is a character from Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1891. He is an important character and you should really read the novel if you want to know more about this, but the question is: Are we supposed to like Wotton? Many modern readers sure do. They love him. He is portrayed by Colin Firth in the 2009 film adaption and shown to be the real hero of the film (this is very different in the book. Just saying in case you only know the film). Truth is, I think you’re not supposed to like him. He is sexist. He talks about rebelling against society but he never does, just tells his friends to and watches whilst they crash and burn. And he is safe, never risking anything, never stepping out of line. There’s a subtle irony to whatever he says and does and I don’t think it was lost on Wilde’s fellow Victorians as it is lost on most modern readers.
Lord Henry Wotton, witty Henry Wotton who everyone seems to adore these days with his sexist comments and boasting personality is not supposed to be liked at all. I’m pretty sure a lot of interpretations of his character tell you exactly that – whatever he says in these books, whatever he does, the advice he gives leads to absolute catastrophe in the end. Lord Henry is not supposed to be taken seriously and actually listened to. And yet I see him quoted all the time and – worse – I see his quotes attributed to Oscar Wilde as though he said these things, as though he really believed them, when in fact he never did. We, as modern readers, read Dorian Gray differently from how Victorians read it. Society changes, it’s perfectly normal. But I think this is well worth knowing before we go: “Ugh, Oscar Wilde was such a misogynist.” He was very much not.
I don’t want this post to continue on forever, so let’s just look at some stuff: When Oscar Wilde became the editor of the Lady’s World magazine, he renamed it Woman’s World and instead of just writing about fashion as the magazine did before, he added articles about politics, culture and the likes. Topics that in Victorian England were thought to be too much for a woman’s mind, topics that were not thought of as women’s topics at all. Wilde, along with his wife Constance, also was an advocate of rational dress – meaning dress that didn’t endanger women’s health and lives. Oscar Wilde lost both his half-sisters when their impractical, wide skirts caught fire during a party and they burned to death, so I guess he knew what he was talking about here.
And Lord Henry Wotton’s quotes? I guess it’s safe to say that Wilde fully intended each and every thing Lord Henry says to be utter rubbish. Victorian England was sexist and Lord Henry Wotton is supposed to be a mirror of that exact society – Wilde however (who never fit in himself) held a mirror up to exactly that society. The whole of Dorian Gray is actually just Wilde saying: “This is you, this is our society and this is what it does to people.” And Victorians understood that. There’s a reason Dorian Gray was harshly criticised after it was published and contrary to popular belief it was not just about the homosexual subtext (which also plays into Wilde’s critique of Victorian society as a whole) but also about how Wilde was not playing by the rules of Victorian society which made the book “immoral” in the eyes of many a reader.
So before going and declaring Oscar Wilde a big old misogynist maybe consider this and consider too that the sexist quotes you can find attributed to Wilde were actually said by his characters and meant to criticise the exact thing modern readers accuse Wilde of. There’s this lovely quote (this time by Wilde himself) about how Lord Henry Wotton is how people see him, Basil Hallward is how he sees himself and Dorian Gray is what he would like to be – in other ages perhaps. And we still make that mistake today: We take Lord Henry Wotton to be a carbon copy of Oscar Wilde himself when in fact the two are nothing alike. And I think people should know this. Oscar Wilde is often mistaken as some kind of air-headed, shallow hedonist, when in fact he was highly critical of his own society and its morals which led to his spectacular downfall only a few years after Dorian Gray was published.
I’m pretty sure all of this has been said before and said better than I ever could too but it’s been bothering me lately. I saw Wilde being misquoted and people holding up Lord Henry Wotton as some kind of witty, lovable character a lot lately and this just feels so wrong. I could say so much more but this is already too long so I’ll stop right here. Please note that I’m no literary critic, I’m a historian who really loves Wilde and researched him, his works and his significance to Victorian society and social changes a lot. I’m no literary critic but I know this: Authors and their characters are not the same thing, they’re not interchangeable. Characters are more like tools writers use to communicate messages. Lord Henry Wotton is not Oscar Wilde. Lord Henry Wotton is Wilde’s tool to criticise Victorian society and I think it’s a shame that so many people keep misreading this.
A few months ago, I posted a list of all of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses. I have since been continuing my research, and have decided to do more in depth lists for the different Celtic groups. For those of you interested in Gallic deities!
This list does not make me the authority! There might be some information that is wrong, or biased due to my own, or my sources bias!
If you feel as though I have forgotten, or mis-represented something, please, feel free to let me know!
As a note, this information is subject to change.
Abellio - God of tree. Presumably, Apple Trees.
Abnoba - Goddess of the forest and river. She’s popular in the Black Forest in Germany
Aericura (Aeraecura, Herecura, Heracura, Herequra, Aeraecura) - Goddess of the Underworld, but also known as a battle guardian. Some believe she was originally an earth (mother) goddess associated with Silvanus.
Alisanos (Alisaunus) - Local god worshipped in Côte-d'Or (east-central France).
Ancamma - Goddess of water. Inscriptions can be found in Trier, in South Western Germany.
Andarta - Goddess of fertility, Patroness of the Vocontii tribe. Little is known about her, leaving only the ability to look at the etymology of her name. She Who Is Bear Like. This causes many to speculate whether she was a Goddess of War, the Hunt, Forests, etc.
Arduinna - Local Goddess, Goddess of Forest (Ardennes) and hunting. She was often depicted riding the back of a wild boar. She was popular in the Ardennes region.
Artaius or Artio - Bear God. The gender of this deity is vague. However, some believe King Arthur was descended from the bear God Artaius. The female depiction of this deity was Artio or Dea Artio.
Aveta - Mother Goddess. Patron Goddess of Midwifery and birth.
Belenus - Meaning “Bright One”, he is the God revered commonly as the one responsible for the fire festival of Beltane. Associated with the Irish Bilé, he was said to be the consort of Danu. Takes on Belenus are conflicted. In some texts, he is referenced as the God of Healing; however, as equated to Bilé he appears as a psychopomp, and the God of Darkness.
Borvo (Bormo, Bormanus) - God of Hot and Mineral Springs
Brigindo (Brigantia, Brigit, Brighid) - Triple Goddess, heavily revered throughout the Celtic lands. She was the Goddess of arts, crafts, fertility, and possibly of war. Her name means “Exalted One” or “High One”. Imbolc was a celebration thrown in her honor.
Camulos (Camulus) - God of War and Sky, whose symbol was a wild boar. He was said to wield an invincible sword, and in some depictions (chiefly, coins found in Camulodunum) he is depicted with horns.
Cathubodua - A Continental Goddes of War equated to Badb Catha (Battle Crow). See Morrigan.
Cernunnos - The Horned God - A God of nature, and presumably a God of fertility, animals, grains, fruits and agriculture. He was often referred to as the “Lord of the Wild Things.” Early Christians equated Cernunnos to the Devil, or the anti-Christ. In fact, some Christians still do.
Epona (Eponabus, Bubona) - Fertility Goddess, Protector of Horses, Donkeys and Mules. She is equated to the Welsh horse-Goddess Rhiannon and the Irish Goddess, Macha. Many also believe that the name Eponabus is indicative of her being a triple Goddess. She was adopted by the Romans and turned into the patron Goddess of cavalrymen.
Esus (Aisunertos, Esunertos, Aisus, Aesus, Hesus) - God associated with Blood Sacrifices and hanging in the Lugarian and Treveri Tribes. Typically, with two other Gods (Taranis, Teutates). His name can be equated to “Lord” or “Master.” He was the husband to Rosmerta, a fertility Goddess. He was often depicted with three birds (cranes) and a bull.
Grannus - God of healing and the spring. He was often depicted with Sirona, who was a Goddess of Healing and Springs.
Lenus - God of Healing, worshiped by the Treveri Tribe.
Lugus - God of light or, of the sun. He was rather popular with the Celts; so popular, in fact, that several cities were named after him. It’s because of Lugus that many people confuse Lugh, an Irish God, as a God of the Sun. However, some debate that Lugus is a triune God encompassing Esus, Toutatis and Taranis, who were often equated to blood sacrifices, leading to the premise and practice of the infamous three-fold death.
Matres - Triad of mother Goddesses, meant to protect the home against famine and diseases, as well as to represent fertility.
Nantosuelta - Goddess of nature, valley and streams. Her symbol was that of a Raven, implying that she was connected to death and the underworld. She was also the consort to Sucellus; the God of Fertility and Prosperity.
Nehalennia - Goddess of seafarers, and was the tribal goddess of the Morini. She was often depicted holding either an oar or a rope in her hands. Sometimes, she’d even be carrying a cornucopia, which would indicate that she had some ties with fertility.
Nemausius - Local God of a sacred spring in Nimes, Southern France.
Ogmios - Revered as the God of eloquence, due to his depictions of being followed by a crowd, with their ears attached to his mouth by a golden chain, he has been equated to Ogma, the Irish God of eloquence and poetry (and the son of Danu and Dagda). He has also been revered as a God of Strength (so much so as to be equated to Roman Hercules). He can also be seen depicted wearing a Lion’s hide as a cloak, carrying a club and a bow.
Rigisamus (Rigonmetis) - A little known Celtic God of War.
Ritona - Local Goddess of the Treveri Tribe, equated to the Goddess of rivers and fords.
Rosmerta - A fertility Goddess, depicted as carrying a basket of fruit, which implies a Goddess of abundance, as well. She can often be seen carrying a two-headed ax. She was the wife of Esus.
Rudiobus - Local God, presumably, a God of Horses.
Sequana (Dea Sequana) - Local River Goddess. She occupied territory between the Saône, Rhône and Rhine rivers. It’s also said that she is the Goddess of Healing, and can be found depicted wearing diadem, standing on a boat with her arms spread out.
Sirona - Goddess of healing springs, whom was often depicted with Grannus, a God of Healing Springs. She was a very popular Goddess in the west of Brittany to the east of Hungary. Sirona was depicted as a seated goddess, wearing a diadem on her head, a dog resting on her lap, a snake entwined around her right arm, while she was holding three eggs. In ancient civilizations, the snake was often a depiction of healing, while the eggs were often synonymous with fertility. In other depictions, she can be found holding grains and fruit.
Smertrios (Smertios, Smertrius) - This is not the name of a God, but more like a title gifted to Gods of War. However, there are depictions that would lead to the belief that Smertrios was deified. Chiefly, a specific image with the water Goddess Ancamma where he is depicted as a bearded god holding a rearing snake in one hand, while the other hand held either a club or a firebrand. Möhn, near Trier, there was a large sacred spring, enclosed by a temple which led to the belief that he could be a God of healing springs and god of plenty.
Sucellus - Possibly the god of feast and providence, woodland and agriculture. He was consort to Nantosuelta, a Goddess of nature and water. He was often depicted carrying a long-handed hammer and a cauldron, suggesting that those who invoked his name, either ask him for protection or provision. This sort of associated him with the Irish god Dagda, due to the Dagda having a magical Cauldron, and his weapon; a huge club on wheels. Sucellus was also seen accompanied by a raven and a three-headed dog. These link him to the funerary practice.
Taranis - His name means “Thunderer”, which equates him to the God of Thunder. His symbol was that of the spoke wheel. He is also depicted often with Esus and Teutates, tying him with the theory of Lugus, and the three-fold death. His victims were “placed in a wicker image before it was burned.”
Tarvus Trigaranus - A bull God. Sometimes, he is depicted with three horns. Other times, he can be found depicted with three cranes perched on his back.
Teutates - “God of the People,” is his name’s literal translation. He is also known as a God of war, wealth and fertility He was often equated under the theory of Lugus, seen with Esus and Taranis. His sacrifices were often drowned in a sacrificial lake.
Vosegus - A local God, who was the personification of Vosges (a mountain/forest region in Eastern France). He was often depicted carrying a pig under his arm.
Who knows what you’ve spoken to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all your life seems to shrink, the walls of your bower closing in about you, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?