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Central Theme

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

Stories were first told for two reasons: entertainment and education. The Epic of 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. It also has some things about that culture that it wants to explore and that it wants the audience to consider; among them, about the responsibilities of a leader and about the inevitability and acceptance of death. This is where we start to identify a key element of storytelling: that of the Central Theme.

Different from An Aesop in that the Central Theme is often a question or a general topic rather than a direct precept or conclusion: where an Aesop is a specific moral that is explicated and forced on the audience, a Central Theme will more likely be explored, analyzed, and Played With. 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 is interested in exploring and/or 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.

Using our example above as a demonstration, the writer may have constructed a story that examines the difficulties of sustaining The Power of Friendship in a cold, harsh world (theme), only to ultimately reach the conclusion that The Power of Friendship will always prevail (Aesop). The reader may disagree with the author's conclusion, but regardless, the work will still be about the difficulties of sustaining The Power of Friendship, and there's nothing the reader can do to change that.

Put simply, the Aesop is what the author wants the reader to learn. The Central Theme is what the story is fundamentally about.

Also compare Motif, a more general term for a recurring symbol or idea throughout a work, different from Central Theme in that it is not the story's main focus. Another distinction is that a Central Theme is usually a broad, expansive topic—love, time, mortality—while Motifs are generally smaller and more specific.

A good place to start thinking about the theme of the work is the conflict it depicts; what is the overall conflict of the story, where does it originate, and what questions or thinking points does this conflict prompt?

Go to a work's Analysis sub-page to find a more detailed exploration of its central theme — or add your own insight. As always, however, be wary of seeing messages where there are none.

An album with a Central Theme will usually be considered a Concept Album.



Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Theme, Running Theme



MatPat interprets that the central theme for Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is instability, the idea that even though the heroes beat the biggest threat of the universe and can retire, there's still much work to be done, thus leading to generational conflicts, distrust in authority, and eventually the old guard having to pass the torch. He cites examples from the Phase 4 movies where this happens.

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