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Analysing fiction

Analysing themes in fiction

Analysing themes in fiction

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Analysing themes in fiction

​​In a nutshell 

Themes are ideas that may lie under the surface of a text. Examining the language carefully in a fictional text can help you to identify what kind of themes are being shown. In this summary, you will learn how to identify themes of a text.

Identifying themes

An easy way to identify themes is by looking at motifs. A motif is a recurring idea or image throughout a text. For example, in 'Macbeth' there is a motif of blood. This reflects the theme of violence and war. In the same way that violence and bloodshed can make someone go crazy, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth start to see things which are not there. You can also relate the theme of a text to characters, setting and the language.​

Finding a theme in an extract

It can be quite difficult to find themes in a short fictional text. It can help to look at the sort of language that is being used and the author's word choices. A fun way to do this is by picking up book and reading a random page. Whilst reading, pick out a few words and try to associate similar words to it. For example, 'wind'. We can associate this with: clouds, atmosphere, a dull day. This will all go under the theme of nature. Then you can see if there are other words that relate to this theme. This can help identify recurring themes of a text.


'I couldn't forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.'            

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

  • There are some hints that wealth is going to be a key theme in the novel as suggested by:
    'They smashed up things and and creatures and then retreated back into their money.'
  • There are also hints of class:
    'Let other people clean up the mess they had made.'


When looking at themes in a text, try to look beyond the simple terms. Instead, it can help to explore the opposite of a theme. For example, the opposite of love is hate. There are usually opposites included in a text because it is what makes the story interesting. Without conflict, the story will be rather boring to read, so keep an eye out for opposing themes.

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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

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