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Central Theme
"Central theme, the most important thing.
Central theme, the tie that binds together."
Daniel Amos, "Central Theme"

What the story is about; a philosophy, a message, an idea at the heart of a story.

Stories were first told for two reasons: Entertainment and Education. Gilgamesh was the story of a hero who kicked ass and took names, but it was also a celebration of the culture that produced it, one of the first. In essence this is what separates reality from fiction: Real Life has no central theme, no message or great meaning, save the ones that we transpose on it ourselves.note 

On that note, be wary of seeing messages where there are none.

Different from An Aesop in that the Central Theme is often a question or a general topic rather than a direct precept or conclusion. For example, "The Power of Friendship" or (even better) "The struggles of sustaining The Power of Friendship in a cold, harsh world" are themes in that they are questions or issues that the author wants the reader to think about, whereas "The Power of Friendship will ultimately overcome all obstacles" is An Aesop in that it is a lesson or conclusion the author wants the reader to take away from the work. Of course, there can be a fine line between them, and the central theme can and often is used to develop and deliver the Aesop, but they are not strictly speaking the same; the reader may disagree with the author's Aesop, but the work will still be about the Central Theme whether they disagree or not.

A good place to start thinking about the theme of the work is the conflict it depicts; what is the overall conflict of the work, where is it stemming from, and what questions does this conflict give rise to?

Go to a work's Analysis sub-page to get a more detailed explanation of its central theme—or add your own insight. Make note of being wary of seeing messages where there are none.

Sub-pages:

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Manhua 
  • Infinity Game: Isolation and the importance of real connections between people.

     Music 
  • Pink Floyd
    • The Dark Side of the Moon: The pressures of modern life that can drive people to madness if left unchecked.
    • The Wall:
      • The importance of coming to terms with your past, and how easily you can become the very kind of person that you hate if you don't.
      • The importance of thinking for yourself, and the perils of youthful rebellion turning into mindless obedience.
      • The cyclical nature of violence and oppression, and the unavoidable fact that mindless hate always begets more.
      • As ugly as the world may seem, cutting yourself off from society never makes anything better.
    • Animals: The dehumanizing effects of social hierarchies, and the roles that greed and complacency play in solidifying them.
    • Wish You Were Here: How hard it can really be to lose someone, even if they're not truly "gone".

     Religion, Mythology and Folklore 
  • Arthurian Legend: Despite the lofty dreams and ideals of humanity, baser instincts (lust, greed, vengeance, distrust) will inevitably destroy Heaven-on-Earth.
  • Norse Mythology: Heroism in the face of defeat.
  • Classical Mythology: The folly of Pride. The eternal struggle between parent and child..
  • Buddhism: The search for inner peace and contentment.
  • Aztec Mythology: How nothing good in the world comes without sacrifice.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh - Nothing lasts forever.
  • Islam: Peace through submission to God.
  • Christianity: Salvation and Redemption.
    • Catholicism & Orthodoxy: Sacrifice and sharing in it.
  • Judaism: Man is God's partner in sanctifying the world.

     Tabletop Games 

     Web Comics 
  • Gunnerkrigg Court is, at heart, all about balance. The Court and the Woods; Magic and Technology; Reason and Passion; Dark and Light. Everything ends up needing a balance, which the main character Annie is slowly becoming. Also: Violence is occasionally a necessary evil, though it should be used sparingly.
  • Homestuck: Teamwork is necessary for survival and is more important than our petty differences.
    "where doing it man. where MAKING THIS HAPEN."
  • A recurring idea in the Walkyverse is hypocrisy. It's most obvious in Character Development, where someone will realize they've been acting hypocritically, but it also shows up in smaller ways - Mike's favoured technique for inducing suffering is pointing out when someone is being hugely hypocritical (usually by painfully enforcing their own logic), one-shots in Shortpacked! tend to focus on hypocritical fan logic, etc.
  • I'm My Own Mascot: What it means to be a member of a Fandom and how, in the grand scheme of things, the world doesn't revolve around us. Driving this home is the main character being both an Author Avatar and the resident Butt Monkey (especially when he gets egotistical or self-indulgent).
  • The Order of the Stick: Teamwork and trust are key to victory - the more people trust each other and are willing to cooperate, the more effective they are, even the bad guys. People who cannot afford to trust their allies, such as Lord Shojo, think they don't need others to help solve their problems, like Miko or V in the "Don't Split the Party" arc, or just want to do what they want, not thinking about their teammates like Belkar, and perhaps Xykon will get in trouble. Also, Deconstruction of Dungeons & Dragons stereotypes by putting them in contrast with a realistic racial conflict.
    • Another theme is the nature of power, and what it means to use this effectively and wisely. A recurring thread through the plot is characters who are supposedly more powerful being undone by their supposedly weaker opponents, often because the powerful get overconfident and/or limit themselves to brute force where the less powerful are forced to apply creativity and intelligence and exploit unforeseen flaws and weaknesses to solve their problems.
  • Goblins: Inversion/deconstruction of Dungeons & Dragons Fantastic Racism - just because some races are aligned as "evil" or "monsters" doesn't mean that humans and other player races are any better.
  • Tower of God deals with the rifts that are caused between people due to differences in power, luck, ability and resources and how these rifts cause betrayal and sacrifice that have no blame.
  • Manly Guys Doing Manly Things: Being Badass doesn't mean you'll have good life — most manly guys have strong problems with adjusting to normal life and traits that made them badasses in their games and shows only get in the way in normal life.
  • Penny and Aggie explores the bond that exists between individuals of contrasting, even clashing, personalities, and how that bond ends up changing them.

     Web Original 
  • The Whateley Universe seems to be fundamentally about prejudice. In a super hero world, there's prejudice against mutants and their powers, but in a lot of ways the stories are at least as much about prejudice against LGBT people, since every one in Team Kimba is a mutant who is LGBT in some way, perhaps against their will.
  • Worm: People need to learn to communicate with each other, lest we tear each other apart.

     Web Video 


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alternative title(s): Theme; Running Theme
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