What it is

A theme is a statement about life, arising from the interplay of key elements of the text such as plot, character, setting and language. These work together in a coherent way to achieve the purpose of the text.

Theme differs from the topic of a text (war, the sea) or an idea addressed by a text (prejudice, friendship) in that the theme conveys an attitude or value about an idea (By accepting difference we are enriched.  True friendship survives adversity).

At its most basic level a theme may be regarded as the message or even the moral of a text. Themes may be used for a didactic purpose or may add a philosophical dimension, inviting us to think about our place in the world. A theme is a statement about human experience that is profound and which responders may accept or reject, depending on their own worldview.

Why it is important

Identifying themes is a higher order skill, moving students beyond the stated details of the text to consider the ideas implied by these details. By explaining how themes emerge students come to an understanding of how individual elements of a text cohere to serve a theme.

Understanding the themes of a text gives students insight into what is valued by a culture and the extent to which they may identify with, accept or challenge these values.

Stage 6

Theme reinforces ways of thinking and being in a culture

They learn that

  • theme emerges out of the relationship between a responder, composer, a text and a culture.
  • Themes are often conveyed through non-literal elements of a text, including metaphor, symbol, structure
  • some discourses foreground particular themes
  • themes may become archetypal in the representation of a culture across texts and contexts
  • critical perspectives are a way of interrogating archetypal themes*.

*Advanced and Extension courses

Stage 5

Students understand that the elements of a text work together to support the theme

They learn that

  • themes draw together the elements of a text
  • themes can be indicated through patterns in texts such as a motif, parallel plots or characters
  • there may be major and minor themes
  • themes are traditionally thought to provide insight into the world view of the author
  • themes may be challenged by considering representation in the text from a different perspective

Stage 4

Students understand that theme reflects or challenges values

They learn that

  • themes are statements about the ideas, explicit or implied, in a text
  • themes are reinforced by choice of language and imagery
  • themes can highlight social and cultural similarities and differences.
  • thematic interpretations arise from personal experience and culture

Stage 3

Students understand that thematic statements may be interrogated

They learn that themes

  • are different from subjects or topics
  • arise out of the actions, feelings and ideas of people or characters
  • may be explored in different ways by different texts
  • relate to social, moral and ethical questions  in the real world

Stage 2

Students understand that ideas in texts may be made into thematic statements that tell us about human experience.

They learn that

  • the ideas of a text are suggested through particular details such as events, character behaviour and relationships
  • some ideas are so powerful that they reappear in many texts

Stage 1

Students understand that the ideas in texts invite them to reflect on their own behaviour and values.

Students learn that

  • the purpose of a text can be to convey a message
  • the main idea of a text can be a moral


Students understand that texts can convey a message.