Have you been asked to write an essay about an important literary work, and does your coursework call on you to include a thematic statement? Are you writing a novel, and have you come to the conclusion that you need to create a thematic statement, either to help you in your creative process or to land a literary agent?
You may feel confused, and even stuck — thematic statements are not often talked-about, and few people understand what they truly are. Therefore, writing one can be a challenge. We're here to help.
Understanding a Thematic Statement
A thematic statement can be defined as the one core idea that runs through an entire novel, essay, or other written work — the central message that underpins everything within the text. This message is not merely a statement of fact, but also offers a moral judgment or philosophical foundation.
Because the thematic statement conveys the central idea around which the entire work is based, it can usually be conveyed in just one sentence. Plot, setting, and characters do not need to be included in a thematic statement, as the thematic statement is the one idea that remains true once you strip all of these elements away
In some cases, the theme, or the thread that runs through the entire work, is immediately apparent. In other cases, the theme of the literary work is open to interpretation.
Still confused? While we'll delve into the topic much more deeply, some possible thematic statements could include:
- "Sometimes love really is all you need."
- "The true meaning of life can be found not in material possessions, but in creativity."
- "Being a hero is a choice anyone can make."
- "The line between good and evil is not always apparent."
- "Fear can be more dangerous than anything else."
Thematic Statements vs Thesis Statements vs Topic Statements: What Is the Difference?
People sometimes ask how thematic statements differ from thesis statements and topic statements, both of which are more commonly discussed — and also often more immediately apparent.
A thesis statement can be defined as the central claim in an academic paper, such as an essay, which the author defends throughout their writing. The thesis statement is explicitly stated, typically immediately following the introduction, and is typically a debatable argument. A thesis statement could be something like "The Handmaid's Tale is unquestionably Margaret Atwood's most famous novel, but the author's MaddAddam trilogy holds more literary significance."
A topic statement discusses the topic of a work — and, if we were to continue with the previous example, one possible option would be to state that "This essay discusses the literary significance of The Handmaid's Tale as compared to the MaddAddam trilogy." If we were to talk about the topic of the MaddAddam trilogy instead, the topic statement would be different; "This work speculates about the evolutionary path climate change may force humanity to take", for instance.
Thematic statements, which are almost always written about literary works like novels or poems, do not deal in such specifics. They merely state the underlying and most fundamental message that permeates the entire work, and which may not ever be declared explicitly.
Where Are Thematic Statements Used?
Thematic statements serve two basic purposes. These largely depend on who crafts them; a thematic statement may be written by the author of a work, or by a reader.
Authors can use thematic statements to:
- Decide on a foundational philosophy that should run through the entire work, even before they begin writing the work. When an author keeps this important core message or value in mind throughout the creative process, it can have a large positive impact. A more coherent text will result, as characters or plot points not relevant to the thematic statement can be eliminated.
- Land a literary agent, if the author is hoping to be traditionally published. Conveying the central theme of the work clearly but succinctly can catch agents' attention. Literary agents can, in turn, employ thematic statements as they negotiate with publishers.
Readers can craft thematic statements, too. In this case, the purpose may be to:
- Offer a core interpretation of the central meaning of a novel or poem, in order to demonstrate that the student has deeply understood the core of the work.
- Choose which works to include in an essay that seeks to interpret the theme of multiple works.
How to Find a Thematic Statement for a Novel or Other Work
Those who have interacted with a work on a deeper level, perhaps by reading it multiple times and contemplating its philosophical implications, may immediately notice a theme they can use to craft a theme statement. This is not always true, however, as many books can be interpreted in several different ways.
Students who have been asked to pinpoint an accurate thematic statement for a work of fiction can start identifying a theme statement by gathering more general information about the work. For instance, consider:
- What do you know about the plot and the characters?
- What important struggles are characters seeking to overcome in the work, with a focus on the protagonist?
- What values does the protagonist not want to compromise on?
- How does the book end?
After answering all of these questions, and perhaps others, ask yourself — what is this work truly about, at its core?
You are bound to come up with an answer. Try to summarize it in a single sentence, such as "The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, reveals how creative imagination can help us overcome trauma". Congratulations; you are on the right track. Now strip your statement of all identifying characteristics specific to the work itself, and leave only the bare essentials.
"Creative imagination plays a key role in surviving traumatic events"?
Yes! Now you've got it. Theme statements are abstract and do not refer to authors, plot points, characters, or settings — only the most important message can remain. Keep in mind that others may interpret the essence of a book to be quite different, but if you strongly believe that your statement is correct, you should feel free to use it.
How to Write a Thematic Statement: A Step-by-Step Guide
Have you been asked to identify a thematic statement for a literary work? To write a succinct and accurate statement that you are confident about defending, simply take the following steps.
1. Read the Work Thoroughly
Make notes as you are reading if you can. Once you are finished, ask yourself this question — what message ties all the characters, plot points, and interactions in the book together? Remember not to focus on what happens in the book, but on the underlying values.
2. Summarize the Core Message
Try to summarize the core message in a single sentence. You may end up with something like "The Hunger Games shows that people are willing to sacrifice everything for those they love, and threatening one's family may create a revolution". That's a great start, but you have more work to do.
3. Strip Away Everything that Applies Specifically to the Work
A thematic statement is an abstract message devoid of specificity. Do not reference the work or any characters within it, and do not address the people who may read your thematic statement. "When people are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their loved ones, society can be transformed completely", for instance.
4. Steer Clear of Tropes
While thematic statements are abstract, they are also specific. Do not go for "love conquers all", "blood is thicker than water", "beggars can't be choosers", for instance — make a more general statement that gives the reader a better idea of what the work is about.
5. Read and Edit the Thematic Statement You Came up With
Can you shorten anything without losing content? Do you need to be more specific? Is everything you have written true about the book, poem, film, or other work, as you understand it? Are you satisfied with your word choices? If you can answer "yes" to all of these questions, you are likely finished. Good job!
How to Write a Thematic Statement: Common Mistakes to Avoid
As you are writing a thematic statement, whether for a novel you would like to write yourself or for a book you have read and are penning an essay about, your message will gain clarity and impact if you avoid the following common mistakes:
- Do not rely on literary tropes or cliches to write a thematic statement. Be authentic.
- All literary works use known archetypes of some kind, such as "rags to riches", "the honest fool", "the self-sacrificing carer", and so on. Identifying the archetypes used in a work can help you discover the thematic statement, but do not stop there. Address underlying motivations.
- Do not make any statement about the plot or characters; the thematic statement should address the underlying truth within the work, and not the specifics.
Do I need to have a thematic statement before I write a book?
Not at all. Pondering the core message you want to convey will help you remain consistent as you write, however. Having a thematic statement can also help authors eliminate plot points and side characters that have no place in the story.
Do I need to discover the thematic statement whenever I write an essay about a book?
Keeping a work's core message in mind as you write your essays will help you create stronger texts that allow you to draw on literary works with a similar theme. Thinking about a work's thematic statement will also help you understand the author's intentions more deeply.