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Central Theme
aka: Running 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. 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 

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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.

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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 the 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.

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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.


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Alternative Title(s): Theme, Running Theme

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