Kim Manning Date:
Novel Study / Short Story - Samples:
* Topics / Issues
* Character Profiles
PART A: Definition of Theme / Theme Statement:
A theme or theme statement is not a single word eg. motherhood, friendship, racism, and trust are not themes (they are topics or issues).
Instead, a theme is a statement (1 or more sentences) of the author's opinion about those topics / issues based on the plot and characters in a novel.
An effective theme should:
i. Not state the obvious (it should suggest some deeper understanding / insight);
ii. It should not be stated as a cliche (eg. cliches: Honesty is a good policy; One can't judge a book by its cover), and,
iii. An effective theme should be reasonably debatable (that is, someone could reasonably disagree with it)
See sample themes / theme statements in Part C below.
* * * * *
Topics / Issues + Author's Opinion (about topic issue) = Theme
PART B: Samples of Topics / Issues:
Authors of novels and short stories raise several topics / issues throughout their novels (eg. anything from relationships, corruption, social issues --poverty, violence, the treatment of seniors/ the disadvantaged; to friendship, adolescence, maturity, love, kindness, etc.).
As you read a novel / short story it is helpful (to later determine themes) to write down topics / issues raised along with specific incidents and quotations (with page references) where those issues/topics are raised so you can refer back to them. Issues (and the author’s opinions / values about each one as reflected through the plot and characters of the novel) help to build toward understanding the main themes of the novel or short story.
a) Samples of Topics / Issues from THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton
- friendship; loyalty; gang violence; the stresses faced by teenagers; families; the causes of crime and violence; rich vs. poor (income distribution in society); poverty; alcohol abuse.
Sample Issue/Topic and Evidence from Novel: teen violence
- in the novel the Socs and the Greasers are youth gangs that confront each other, at times with deadly violence. Hinton argues that one reason these teens turn to violence is because they are not being supported emotionally by their parents.
- Evidence from the novel to illustrate that topic / issue:
eg. Bob, one of the Soc’s, is a wealthy, popular boy who ends up being stabbed to death after he attacks Johnny and Ponyboy in a park. Earlier he said, “Nice clothes, fast cars ain’t worth nothing. My old man hasn’t looked in my eyes for years. All he wants to do is give me money to get out of his way. He doesn’t even know who I am anymore” (page 128).
b) Samples of Topics / Issues from the novel THE PIGMAN by Paul Zindel: - parental neglect in families; single parent families; the elderly; death; loneliness; friendship; loyalty; alcohol abuse and some of its causes; honesty; different levels of maturity and responsibility between teens; love; healing; laughter/humour/sense of fun.
Sample Issue/Topic and Evidence from Novel: the stresses faced by families and how those can lead to hurt and conflict - Lorraine’s mom worked long hours at a nursing home job that didn’t pay very well and that she did not enjoy. The combination of her being tired and frustrated sometimes resulted in her treating Lorraine with emotional abuse. In speaking to Lorraine her mom said, "You’re not a pretty girl Lorraine. You’re putting on too much weight. Plain girls like you end up with loser husbands like your father." (p. 67)
PART C: Sample Themes / Theme Statements
a) Theme #1: S.E. Hinton in her novel The Outsiders suggests that when people, particularly young people, commit serious crimes there are underlying social issues / reasons in their backgrounds that have contributed to them making those bad choices. She does not believe people are naturally criminal. She believes the conditions they live in and with are major contributing factors leading to criminal behaviour.
- Supporting Evidence #1:
Dallas Winston is a character in the novel who steals, robs a store, and eventually dies in a gunfight with the police. Hinton suggests that Dallas was not “born bad.” Rather because he was repeatedly beaten and then abandoned by his alcoholic father as a child, and then left to raise himself Dallas lacked the support and direction he needed. He turned to his gang for support. For example, as Johnny told Pony, “Dallas Winston never had a chance. His older brother was the only one he had as a child, and he was only a teenager himself. His dad beat him and threw him out on the street when he was just 10. Dallas ain’t bad, no kid should be treated that way” (page 52).
- Supporting Evidence #2:
Hinton shows that despite that he was still a loyal and supportive friend. For instance, when Pony and and Johnny needed help after the murder in the park they turned to Dallas who helped them find a place to hide out. Later he took them food and offered good advice. When they first approached Dallas at a bar in the middle of the night (after Johnny had stabbed Bob) he said,” How did two kids like you get mixed up in a murder? We need time to straighten this mess out before you turn yourselves in. Hop the 3:30a.m. train to Windrixville and I’ll come to see you in a few days once I figure out how we’re going to handle this” (p. 183).
- Supporting Evidence #3: Also, when the church in Windrixville caught fire Dallas risked his own life to help rescue the trapped children. For example, when the children’s teacher told him not to go into the burning church he told the teacher, “There are kids in there! I have to go in” (page 157).
**All three examples from the novel help to support the theme. While Dallas Winston got involved in crime, Hinton argues there are reasons beyond his control for that, and, that he is not a bad person by nature.
Note: how Theme #1 (above) meets all three criteria of an effective theme statement:
i. It does not state the obvious (it does suggest some deeper understanding / insight);
ii. It is not stated as a cliche (eg. Honesty is a good policy; One can't judge a book by its cover); and,
iii. It is reasonably debatable (that is, someone could reasonably disagree with it).
b) Other Sample Themes / Theme Statements:
i. In his novel Lord of the Flies William Golding argues that the fundamental basis of humanity is based upon a “person eats person” world.
ii. Susie Hinton contends in her novel The Outsiders that all people are fundamentally good. iii. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas suggests that true happiness in life does not come from material possessions but rather from the love and support of friends and family.
PART D: Figuring Out CHARACTERS in Novels / Short Stories:
Authors use their characters to represent people, their lives, motivations, and emotions. A character profile is a written summary of a character that focusses on specific incidents and quotations (with page references) that reveal a character’s personality, motivations (the reasons/background why he/she makes the choices/decisions he/she does), and personal background.
For example: Jack from the novel LORD OF THE FLIES Character #1: Jack
a) Personality: intelligent; driven; focussed; competitive; can be an effective leader; can be a bully; likes power; others look up to him; can be ruthless; manipulative
b) Motivations: Jack is a take-charge type of person. He likes power and sees that other than Ralph he’s the person the other boys look to for leadership. His goal is to have power and control and he will do just about anything to get it.
c) Personal Background: he was a lead-boy at school; he respected his father but his dad was a strict disciplinarian; he was one of the older boys among the group; at the end he cried when they were rescued showing that he was still a young boy
d) Supporting Quotation :
i) p. 93 Jack deliberately breaks Piggy’s glasses.
“Crush them! He’s fat and useless. What does he need them for anyway?”
- this quotation shows how ruthless and manipulative Jack can be. He knew Piggy was a voice of intelligence and reason, but because Piggy supported Ralph, he was a threat. That’s why Jack wanted Piggy ‘s influence crushed. Breaking his glasses was a major blow to Piggy who could barely see without them.
For example: Ponyboy from the novel THE OUTSIDERS
Character #2: Ponyboy Curtis
- Ponyboy is quite introspective/thoughtful and intelligent. He is able to pull together what he has read and learned and apply those to new situations. When he and Johnny are hiding in the old church in Windrixville Johnny tells him how he is unique as a person because he notices things like the beauty of a sunset, or the value of true friendship. In response Ponyboy quotes from a Robert Frost poem that he learned at school. He quotes Frost’s words when he says, "Nature’s greatest green is gold…its hardest hue to hold."
"That’s it," Johnny said. "That’s exactly what I mean. Stay gold Ponyboy. Stay gold." (pp. 122-123)