How to Write a Clear Theme Statement (with Examples)

Have you been asked to write a theme statement? It might seem easy at first glance, because theme statements are so short — one sentence, or two at most. Coming up with a solid theme statement requires careful analysis, however. Here’s how to write a strong theme statement for any work of art.

Theme Statement Basics

A theme is, in works of art, literature, film, and TV, the one overarching idea that defines the work. No matter the plot and the sub-themes explored in the work, the main theme will shine through in everything the work deals with. A theme statement is a short summary of that idea — a single sentence, or sometimes two, that lay the subject out for an audience.

Theme statements are helpful tools when analyzing a work. In the case of novels, movies, and TV shows, they can also be used to draw potential audience members in without spoiling the work — because (and this is important, so listen up!) a theme statement is not a plot summary, and should never mention specific plot points!

A good theme statement describes the essence of a work, but not its details. It describes the whole work, and not only one particular part of it.

Here’s one example:

In the Amazing Spider-Man 2, Marc Webb shows that with great power, there must not only come great responsibility, but also great sacrifice.

Theme statements are, however, to an extent open to interpretation. Works of art often have multiple themes, and you can write an accurate theme statement in a few different ways.

Theme Statement Vs. Theme Topic

If you find yourself needing to craft a theme statement, you may struggle with this question. How does a theme statement differ from a theme topic? Understanding the similarities and differences is quite easy, thankfully. Look at it like this:

  • A theme topic simply describes the theme of the work — and although there are many, some common examples include “rags to riches”, “coming of age”, or “true love”.
  • A theme statement, in contrast, is a complete sentence (or even two), with some additional information and an interpretation about the way in which the work (film, book, painting, poem…) deals with the theme topic.

As an example, “love conquers all” would be a theme topic. “The central theme in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is that only love can prevail across space and time,” would be a theme statement.

How to Write a Theme Statement

Are you still lost? Are you no closer to writing a killer theme statement now than when you started reading? That’s where this step-by-step guide comes in. Warning: Penning a high-quality theme statement requires a deceptively large amount of work and creative power.

1. Explore the Work Thoroughly

Theme statements may be written about:

  • Novels
  • Plays
  • Poems
  • Movies
  • TV shows
  • Paintings
  • Short stories

Your first step lies in interacting with the work — and to keep things simple, let’s say you’re writing a theme statement about a novel. Read the work thoroughly, cover-to-cover, at least once. It helps if you take notes as you read.

2. Make a List of the Theme Topics You Discover

As you read, you will inevitably discover that the book contains multiple sub-themes. Get yourself a nice notebook, or set up a Word document, and write down any theme topic you come across.

Which one bleeds through in the entire work? That will be the main theme. From the main challenge the protagonist faces and the way in which they overcome it, the interactions the characters have, the language used, and the way in which the setting is described, can you guess the author’s opinion on this central theme? Now you have a solid base to work with.

Reading the book closely, and asking yourself what message it’s sending, is the way to find a theme in a literary piece. That same process works for movies, TV shows, and short stories as well. Finding the theme in a painting or poem can be significantly more challenging, however.

3. Explore the Author’s Thoughts

The work you are interacting with, and are attempting to write a theme statement for, is of course the main place where you will be exploring the author’s thoughts on the book’s theme topic. It is not, on the other hand, your only possible source of information. Especially if you are writing a theme statement for a more recently-written book, you are highly likely to be able to find:

  • Interviews in which the author shares their thoughts on the character’s main struggles and the ultimate meaning of the literary work.
  • Social media blurbs on the topic.
  • Don’t discount the synopsis on the back of the cover, either! You’ll often find a lot of good info there.

4. Use a Template or Theme Statement Generators

Congratulations! The book you are writing a theme statement for has now become, at the very least, an “acquaintance”, and maybe even a “friend”. You have immersed yourself in the book’s overarching theme, and you have intellectually analyzed the book, at least informally in your own mind.

Still not sure how to write a theme statement? You could look for theme statement templates or theme statement generators on the internet, and find some useful tools. You could also work with the following informal template:

The [film/book/poem/etc] [title], by [author] explores [main theme], showing that [main opinion or message about the theme].

Once you’re done filling in the blanks, get to work on rewriting that sentence to make it sound a lot more appealing.

You could start your sentence with:

  • [Name of the work] masterfully explores how….
  • The main theme of [Title] is that…
  • [Name of author’s] work [Title] shows that…

Once you have penned a theme statement you wholly agree with, and you feel confident that it reflects the spirit of the work, you will only need to format it and incorporate it, where relevant, into a wider essay you are writing about the work.

Good Examples of Theme Statements

Are you still not certain that you are on the right track with your theme statement? It always helps to see some examples in action.

Theme Statements Exploring Family

The remake of the classic show Lost in Space sheds a new light on an age-old struggle — exploring each member’s individuality in relation to the family unit.

E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web illustrates that “family” is not necessarily the group one is born into, but a group that chooses to stick by one another unconditionally, no matter what struggles lie ahead.

Theme Statements Dealing with Friendship

Stranger Things is ultimately about the enduring power of friendship — which can, with the right dose of determination, overcome almost anything.

Spider-Man Far from Home deals with some of the hardest aspects of friendship, asking what lengths we are morally obliged to go to to protect those we love.

Theme Statements Discussing Love

Shakespeare explores the unstoppable force of love, regardless of obstacles, in Romeo and Juliet.

Pride and Prejudice leaves no stone unturned as it boldly discusses the ways in which budding love can change us forever.

Theme Statements About Death

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera demonstrates the power of mortality itself, for it is the guaranteed ending that makes life worthwhile.

Henry Scott-Holland’s poem Death Is Nothing At All explores the transitory nature of life.

Theme Statements that Touch on Fear

In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad shows that fear can be used to control — or to overcome.

Sony’s Into the Spider-Verse sheds a unique perspective on the universal emotion of fear, showing that our own insecurities often represent our most significant fetters.

Theme Statements about Identity

Good Will Hunting explores the universal themes of abandonment and identity, asking whether trusting others is possible after a lifetime of isolation and fear.

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden is a tale of lost souls who are found, and learn to trust themselves in the process.

The book Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers, shows that even the oldest of traditions must sooner or later bend to the harsh tides of history.

Social Issues

Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy grapples with the universal human challenge of injustice, showing that hope can be found in the darkest of places.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is a coming-of-age story with a twist. When oppression is a daily reality, Thomas shows, love and unity are the only way forward.

5 Important Tips on Writing a Theme Statement

Are you ready to rock your own theme statement now? Yes — very nearly. Before you do go forward with your final version, you’ll want to make sure to stick to a few important dos and don’ts.

When you present a theme statement for a book, movie, TV series, or piece of poetry, see to it that your statement is:

  • The best theme statements are the result of the hard work you did in interacting with (reading, watching) the work of art you are writing a theme statement for, and getting to know it intimately. Once you are familiar with the work, you can analyze it and present an authentic opinion on its main theme. Note that others may disagree with you. That is OK, as long as you sincerely believe that your position is correct and can defend it.
  • Your opinions in writing your theme statement should flow directly from the literary or cinematic work you are analyzing; don’t bring your own baggage into the theme statement if the work does not explicitly tackle it.

As you pen your theme statement, make sure that you don’t:

  • Offer specifics. This is both so that you can see the “trees for the forest”, so to speak, and identify the theme rather than the plot points, and so that you do not spoil the work for people who have not yet read it or seen it.
  • Deal in cliches. It’s easy. You’ll even spot a few in the previous section. If your theme statement is important to you, however, try to toss your preconceived ideas aside and analyze the work’s important subject matter in a novel way.
  • Don’t generalize in your theme statement. Love doesn’t “always triumph”, for instance.

As long as you keep these points in mind, and you have done the work you need to in analyzing your book, movie, or other piece of art, you will end up with a theme statement you can be proud of.

FAQs

How to start a theme statement?

You can start a theme statement simply by discussing what work of art you are talking about — “in [this work] authored by [this person]…”, or “[Author’s] classic book, [title], shows that…”. Your readers want to know what you are talking about, after all. Take it from there.

How to write a theme statement essay?

After opening your essay with the theme statement, as you view it after careful analysis, you can discuss the main theme and related sub-themes explored within the work you are analyzing in detail. You may compare the work to other works that deal with similar themes, perhaps in entirely different settings, as well.

How to write a theme in a sentence?

If you follow the format of “who wrote this work”, “what’s the main underlying topic?”, and “why is that important?”, you will be able to summarize the theme of a literary or cinematic work in a single sentence. Remember that theme statements may have two sentences, though.

How to write a theme paragraph?

If you were asked to write an entire paragraph, simply explore the work’s theme topic in more depth. You should still avoid any specifics, including plot points or character analyses.

Can you find a theme through titles?

Titles can sometimes offer important clues about a work’s theme. This is not always the case, however. Some works of art have deceptively unrelated titles.

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