Central Theme: Literature

Remember, a Central Theme is not the same as An Aesop; a theme is a question, idea, topic or concept that the text explores, while an Aesop is a conclusion the author reaches about the theme or a lesson they wish to impart to the reader. As such, you should avoid phrasing your examples as conclusions.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Freedom, represented both by Nemo's quest to destroy the British Empire and Ned Land's quest to escape the Nautilus, which is ironically enough Nemo's idea of freedom.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Love is what makes us strongest. Prejudice and bigotry are bad. Everybody has to die eventually.
    • For her part, J. K. Rowling says that the central theme is death: "The theme of how we react to death, how much we fear it. Of course, I think which is a key part of the book because Voldemort is someone who will do anything not to die. He's terrified of death. And in many ways, all of my characters are defined by their attitude to death and the possibility of death."
    • Whether certain values — courage, intelligence, hard work and cunning — can be easily sorted and identified. People can be brave in all sorts of unexpected ways, even the Bookworm can't know everything, and everyone needs a good deal of cunning to survive. Even the best magic in the world can't identify What You Are in the Dark and there are many cases, where people "sort too soon" and judge too readily.
    • Don't overlook children; the world will be in their hands sooner than you think.
  • Freakonomics claims to be an aversion - instead of one unifying theme, it has about half a dozen, listed in the introduction. However, they could be summed up as "Knowledge is power". Also, "People are stupid." The sequel Super Freakonomics claims that the real theme of both books is that people respond to incentives ("Incentives matter" is their phrasing) but they don't always respond in ways that are obvious or manifest.
  • Casablanca: Innocence of youth and loyalty to authority (especially parental) even in the face of imminent death.
  • The Belgariad and the Mallorean aim for two key points: friendship and faith. The former is exemplified when it's pointed out that the Light is always spread across many people while the Dark always works alone; the latter comes to the fore when it's made clear that the primary job of the heroes is ultimately to replace a god.
  • Brave New World: The conflicts between 'happy' ignorance and 'unhappy' intellectual curiosity; can living a purely hedonistic and carefree existence truly be called living?
  • Coraline: Don't expect your creations to obey you just because it was you that made them. (This applies especially if you're a parent.)
  • Pet Sematary: It is better to let go of departed loved ones than to try to bring them back. Or as King himself put it, "Sometimes, dead is better."
  • Wuthering Heights: The past — upbringing, inheritance, memories — never really goes away, it takes on a life of its own and some people either won't or can't let go and move on.
  • A Christmas Carol: What causes a man to harden his heart against the world, and what it takes to redeem him.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos: Humanity is small and inconsequential in the larger universe. The stories written by Lovecraft himself also tended to focus on man's Hubris and the inevitable disasters that it leads to. Also, true understanding is dangerous for the mind and sanity. human have to go back to ignorance and barbary or go insane if they begin to unveil the truth.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has a few, because of the sheer density and length of the series:
    • Extremism is dangerous - fire may be deadly, but ice will kill you just as dead. Too-rigid insistence on the law or morality is as dangerous as too little regard for it.
    • A political system based on inheriting the state is inherently unstable and almost always backfires sooner or later, because it entitles people to leadership of the realm who really, really aren't fit for it. Consequently, what does makes a good leader? Is it enough to be a good person to be a good ruler, or are the shrewdest and most callous and cunning the true victors?
    • Abstract ideals like the king's justice and honor will fall apart in the face of materialist concerns, like how people are going to get paid or how the lower classes can get a bit of social mobility.
    • Nobody is what they seem, everyone has Hidden Depths and even your close family members will have secrets that you probably won't find out. Most of the really heroic actions are The Greatest Story Never Told.
    • The Hedge Knight: Conflict between duty to the realm and personal matters of the heart.
  • The Chronicles of Amber: Too much order and too much chaos are both bad.
  • The Hobbit: The tension between the thrill of adventure and the comforts of home.
  • Lord of the Rings: Even those imagined insignificant can change the world.
  • The Elric Saga: Order Versus Chaos and how too much of either is bad.
  • Ivanhoe: All Love Is Unrequited.
  • Kidnapped: Some causes are just lost. Fight the battles that you can actually win.
  • Kamikaze Girls: Non-comformity, and living by your own rules and principles no matter what
  • Les Misérables: The line between respectable people and criminal behavior depends entirely on the values of society, a criminal can have honor and an incorruptible policeman can be a bad man without realizing it.
  • Conan the Barbarian: The fine line between civilization and savagery.
  • Lord of the Flies:
    • The loss of innocence. Man's not inherently good.
    • You kids would like to do as you please but you're still savages at heart, so shut up and listen to your parents and teachers for another 5-10 years so we can complete the task of civilizing you.
    • Alternatively, children are reflections of the values taught to them by their parents and their institutions. Raise them in a world of Might Makes Right, rampant racism and imperialism and they are going to create that same society when no one is looking.
  • The Great Gatsby:
    • Is the American Dream really all it's cracked up to be?
    • All the money in the world won't make people love you.
  • Madame Bovary: Life is no fantasy.
  • Moby-Dick: The dangers of pursuing an unwinnable quest.
    • If you begrudge and seek revenge for all the bad things the universe throws your way, you'll only cause further harm to yourself and those around you.
    • The surface of the visible world contains only a small portion of what exists and human endeavor (such as harvesting whale oil for cosmetic products) is absurd in the scale of the universe.
  • Sherlock Holmes: There is no mystery out there that cannot be solved with the application of logic and empirical thought.
  • The Hound Of The Baskervilles: The conflict between the fearful superstitions of the past and modern empirical logic and rationality.
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The duality at the heart of man and the conflict between his loftier aspirations and his base desires.
  • Catch-22: The fundamental insanity of war.
  • Pride and Prejudice: Never judge a book by its cover.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: The hypocrisy of the "nobility". Also, the costs of seeking vengeance, even if justified.
  • Gulliver's Travels: How Earth is a Crapsack World and it's inescapable.
  • Heart of Darkness: The evils of colonialism, no matter how pretty its dressed up. Specifically, colonialism corrupts the colonizer.
  • Don Quixote: The Golden Age of chivalry is not only Deader Than Disco but never existed outside the pages of a book. Real-Life doesn't have noble knights, damsels in distress and plucky common folk in need of saving, but people doing what it takes to survive in an unfair society. Anyone who thinks himself a hero has got to be mad, but trying to live up to this obsolete code of chivalry in the hard real world despite repeated failures is way more heroic than any fictional knight could ever be.
  • The Bible is made up of several books with its own themes.
    • The Book Of Genesis: God trying to get His plan for salvation right.
    • The Book Of Exodus: Only through God's law can man have true freedom.
    • Leviticus: The rituals and ceremonies emphasize the gap between man and God.
    • Numbers: Faith can win over even the most difficult challenges.
    • Deuteronomy: Man can overcome his sinful past and bring about a redeemed world.
    • Joshua: The Promised Land is a paradise long as God's people keep it that way.
    • Book of Judges: The cycle of sin in which God's people is stuck.
    • Book of Ruth: Undying Loyalty.
    • Books of Samuel: God's special calling to man and whether or not we can do it.
    • Books of Kings: Earthly kings come and go but God is man's true sovereign.
    • Jonah: God is willing to give everyone a second chance, even if they don't deserve it. Also, you can run from the call, but you won't like where you end up.
    • Song of Songs: Love that was once lost can be found again.
    • Ecclesiastes: What should we really be searching for in this short life?
    • Book of Esther: Never Kneel Before Zod. Remain Defiant to the End. The ever changing tide of fortune.
    • Book of Job: The nature of human suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people?
    • Amos: The true worship of God not centering on ritual but on compassion for the less fortunate.
    • Hosea: Israel's faithlessness in God presented as real adultery.
    • Isaiah: How God controls history.
    • Jeremiah: It Sucks to Be the Chosen One
    • Ezekiel: Even in the Darkest Hour of exile, You Are Not Alone
    • Lamentations: The destruction of Jerusalem as a metaphor for the ruined love between Israel and God.
    • Ezra and Nehemiah: How Israel mends their city and their relationship with God.
    • Daniel: How God helps His people survive and prosper even when they are defeated
    • Psalms: The different times man calls to God.
    • Proverbs: Wisdom being the most important thing a man must have.
    • Nahum - The results of a sinful life.
    • Habakkuk - Does God care about the suffering of his people?
    • The Four Gospels
      • Matthew: Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
      • Mark: Jesus as the savior of the world.
      • Luke: Jesus as the friend of the needy.
      • John: Jesus as the fulfillment of God's work of salvation.
    • Book of Revelation: The triumph of good over evil and the creation of a new world.
  • The Talmud: Using our minds, we can find the presence of God in our daily lives.
  • Sense and Sensibility: The conflict between the emotional sides of our personalities and the rational sides, and the importance of achieving a workable balance between both in order to find happiness.
  • 1984: The fear that even memory is not safe from the tyrant's meddling.
  • Animal Farm:
    • The dreary cycle of old tyrannies being replaced by new.
    • Tyranny is not something that is confined to one country or another. It can happen anywhere (it happened in Russia with the Bolsheviks. The allegory is made rather direct).
  • The War of the Worlds: The consequences of ruthless, uncaring imperialism on those subjected to it.
  • The Time Machine: The consequences and evolutionary directions of a society organised according to a strict class system.
  • The Princess Bride:
    • The nature of stories and what effects they can have on the real world.
    • The conflict between the idealistic worlds of fantasy and the struggles of reality, and what can happen when the two start to mix.
  • Peter Pan: Childhood is fleeting so cherish those memories well.
  • Dune: How the descendants, and eventually the entire universe, reckons with a man's legacy.
  • The Grapes of Wrath: The conflict between people and the systems they operate within. Also, what constitutes family, and what causes them to thrive or collapse.
  • The Man in the High Castle: The nature of reality; is the world around us merely a dream?
  • Frankenstein: The terrible consequences of playing god and the true meaning of responsibility.
  • Robinson Crusoe: Man's need for companionship.
  • Interview with the Vampire: Isolation. How one can be alone even in a never-ending sea of people.
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: When is it all right to lie? Also, the adult world is full of hypocrisy, and you can learn more by following your personal conviction and listening to your conscience.
  • The Catcher in the Rye: Growing Up Sucks.
  • James Bond: The lack of difference in the method used by the Designated Hero and the Card-Carrying Villain.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Growing Up Sucks but not growing up is worse.
  • The Odyssey: Surviving requires cunning, daring and ruthlessness. Even when you have nothing left, you still have your wits and you can find a way to escape any trap, even ones set by the Gods.
  • The Wizard of Oz: The power that resides in all of us.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: How do you deal with sin when it enters your life?.
  • I Am Legend: Man's ability to adapt to his environment. Alternatively, every Hero is the Villain in someone's story, Just as every Villain is a Hero to themselves.
  • Völsunga saga: Being a hero is megacool, but it also sucks immensely. Or: Heroes, they don't grow old happily.
  • Crime and Punishment: Does anyone have the right to pass judgment on their fellow men?
  • The Idiot: Is there a place left in the world for kindness?
  • The Road:
    • Day to day survival as the greatest victory of all.
    • Hold onto your humanity when even hope is gone.
  • The Divine Comedy: What reward or punishment awaits you in the afterlife?
  • The Three Musketeers: Dedicating your life to a cause larger than yourself.
  • The Pillars of the Earth: The legacies parents leave for their children.
  • Emma: Never assume you know what's best for other people; you may not even know what's best for yourself.
  • The Green Mile: You can't help someone that doesn't want to be helped.
  • Lensman: War always changes. The most powerful tool in warfare need not be a weapon.
  • Twilight - Can one contain his or her baser urges?
  • The Notebook - How persistence pays off.
  • Dracula: Sexual predation and the conflict between lust and repression.
  • El Filibusterismo: the emptiness of revolutionary violence without noble aspirations.
  • The Witcher and its video games: The world is filled with monsters, and humans are oftentimes the worst ones of all.
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Is emotion the only hallmark of being human? Does a machine become human if it has emotion? Can emotion be replicated?
  • Various series from Tamora Pierce can be summed up as follows.
    • Song of the Lioness: Love is a strength, not a weakness. Ambition for ambition's sake is wrong.
    • The Immortals: Just because a person's/creature's nature is different to your own doesn't mean it is morally wrong, and should not be changed.
    • Protector of the Small: People with strength, power and privilege should use their resources to protect the disadvantaged. Fairness is of the utmost importance. Societal change is a slow and often painful process, but worthwhile.
    • Daughter Of The Lioenss: Fighting oppression and discrimination with more of the same does not work, and rebellions should strive for peace and fairness, not revenge. Be flexible and realize that your best resources might not be the most obvious ones.
    • Circle of Magic: True magic is in human creativity and our creations. People with completely different social backgrounds and personalities can become the greatest of friends. You can make your own family.
  • Gone:
    • The series as a whole: All humans, even the supposedly innocent and good, are capable of doing horrible, evil things in the right (or wrong) circumstances.
    • We as a society underestimate how strong children and teenagers can be, and just how much they go through on a daily basis and how they survive on their journey to becoming adults. This appears to be the author's interpretation of it.
    • To savour childhood because you may just find yourself missing it when it's gone for good.
  • Animorphs: There are no true winners in war. Alternatively, good and evil isn't as clean cut and simple as one might imagine. There is no such thing as complete righteousness, or complete heartlessness.
  • The Demonata:
    • What do you do when you've lost everything? Simple. You just start again. This is literally the first line of the last book.
    • To do everything you can to defend your homeland and the people in it.
  • Night has two main themes: Evil exists in many forms and many places, and, as long as you believe, you faith can survive anything.
  • TurnOfTheScrew: Don't believe everything you see. The novella also looks down upon Victorian England's sexual repression.
  • Mistborn: The Original Trilogy: It's better to trust and be hurt than to never trust at all, and though trust is often betrayed, it's just as often rewarded; fight for what you believe in, even when it looks like you can't possibly win, and you can change the world; all actions have consequences, even if those consequences aren't always readily apparent; there's always another secret. Each book also has as a central theme the exploration and deconstruction of a particular High Fantasy trope: the Evil Overlord in The Final Empire, prophecy in The Well of Ascension, and The Chosen One in The Hero of Ages.
  • World War Z: Humans Are Bastards.
  • Ellen Hopkins' books have a general theme of that being a teenager is being part of a huge Crapsack World. Many of the teens in her books have horrible lives and find solace in meaningless sex, drug abuse, and suicidal behavior.
  • The Maze Runner Trilogy: Running. The protagonists don't get to stop until the end of The Death Cure.
  • The Dresden Files: The temptation of power and how easy it is to be corrupted by it and misuse it. Also, your actions has consequences, if you act out of anger or don't think them through, it can make a bad situation even worse.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Accepting a harsh reality versus caring about ephemeral things. The consequences of making promises to others, for good or ill.
  • The Mirror of Her Dreams: Every person's ability have an impact on the world, for better or worse, no matter how insignificant they feel.
  • The Hunger Games: Celebrity culture, marketing, the power of symbols.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: Independence, and the dangers of relying on flawed people to take care of you. The second half of the series develops another theme, that everyone has hidden depths and performs acts of evil in their lifetimes regardless of how good they might be. The prequel series, All the Wrong Questions, has a related theme: at what point does having a good reason stop being an excuse for doing terrible things? Where's the line between an Anti-Hero and a bad person?
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Racism-based conflict from a child's point of view.