All human conversation has a point. That is, it is a conscious attempt to convey some idea or point. Conversation is intent to communicate. Well, what about those in mental institutions who babble bits and pieces of conversation. Ah, that does have a point, an intent, even if such conversation is not aimed towards anyone else. It is exposed inner dialogue. There is some construct of reality at work in such a situation. Well, babies babble when they are alone in their cribs. Very true, it takes practice to reproduce the sounds they hear and tease out the structures of words as collections of phonemes, We are not born knowing language, we must learn it through rote practice. By the way, Chomsky was wrong, we are not born with some language acquisition device embedded in our brains. Theory does not always mirror reality. But linguistics debates aside, let us continue with out ideas on theme and its importance.
We can state for the obvious that theme is a thought pattern or patterns within the brain. I am sure you have been forced to read text book authors whose command of the subject may be considered good but who seem to lack the skills of orderly presentation. The same applies to a great many authors. Some have very good presentation in their writing. That is, they write in a way that is logical and concise to convey their point or points. One of the best written short stories was written by Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell Tale Heart which is a masterpiece or writing. I don’t think there is one spare word in that story and it lacks gender pronouns so we could read it as a woman’s story of how she murdered the old man. We might assume that this person, man or woman, is relating this story to us, the authority figures, and as such we press upon his or her conscious a sense of guilt that must betray that act of murder. Notice that there is no remorse, only that vague sense of wrong doing that the conscious efforts of the individual tries to justify. The question before the murderer is not whether he or she did the crime but whether he or she is insane. The possession of sanity is what matters most to this individual and may even be the reason for the murder. This idea of sanity is contested by the eye of the old man. And are there not times when we may question our own sanity? In a way, we may say that this theme of sanity is as vague as the sanity of the narrator. Poe makes no attempt to label sanity as some black and white item readily found on the break front. Sanity is not a concept one can pull out and examine in minute detail like a dead rat. Sanity is something one feels and Poe makes the best of those feelings. How does one know when one is no longer sane? What is the self test one might administer?
Theme deals with morals or a code of conduct. We all have such things and morals are not necessarily religious in nature. It seems to be a prohibition among those who live in tribal groups that murder of other individuals withing the group is wrong and punishable by the standards of the group. Killing outsiders is usually permitted without much thought. Outsiders represent a threat. Yet in Ne Guinea, opposing tribes may war with one another but usually refrain from fights to the death, escalation of violence to that level tends to destroy both groups. There does seem to be a point where the number of individuals in any particular group in any particular conflict are not reluctant to hold back the idea of total destruction. It may be a sort of safety net for society that mass murder through war is not a good idea since some may take to the love of kinning and thus become a danger to the group. Consider the position of Lord Jim. Rules of conduct make or break a society. Perhaps we can relate that idea to the problems in the middle east with ISIS. Certainly the Renaissance of Christianity mirrors the problems of today. Exaggerated idealism often exceeds the normal rules of conduct for a society.
Well, what about Harry Potter, surely that is good literature. Is it? What great moral good was upheld, that good always defeats evil if one remains pure? Try selling that in the ghetto. Well, he remained true to himself and to his friends. Of minor importance, we expect that from others and understand when they lapse from that standard. It is the process of living, we come to expect imperfection because we learn that it is the standard for human behavior. Perhaps there was some great social truth or psychologically defined moment of great importance. Not really, except living life has consequences. Did all the magicians become united in the cause of freedom from bad and evil wizards? Oh, please, this is fantasy land. Was there some religious conversion and perfection? Or perhaps the fact that a footlong magic wand can fit in your pants pocket without detection become the next miracle of humankind. On the other hand we can see that there are consequences to how and where you align your interests. There are those who are drawn to the darkside, as it were, and usually for a reason more complicated than simple greed or character defect. But does the author examine that question in any real depth? Shakespeare casts his eye on Iago through watching his actions and listening to his thoughts. There is no simple badman run amuck here. We can understand Iago but do we really understand Verdermort? In the martial arts such as karate, one earns the next rank by defeating one who holds that rank. The villain must be worthy of the anointed hero. In the duel between the Great White Whale and Captain Ahab, who is villain and who is hero and is there a madness about them both?
How many of you have read Victor Hugo and only remember that Jean Valjean was imprisoned fro stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family? Well, if you only saw one of the three or four movies made from that novel I am not surprised. Yet Hugo spent quite a bit of time detailing his cast of characters, their thoughts and their actions. It was a book about faith in god, not about the ills of the justice system. If Hugo had only wanted to comment on the injustice of the French legal system he needed no more than the first few chapters. But since we haven’t taught morality in the last sixty years in this country I am not surprised that so few people are able to recognize the moral points he tries to represent. Hugo spent a few years of exile in London for his writing so he is not a man to be read lightly. He has a point of view that is both deep and wide. What is the duty of the church, what is its point of existence? How should men conduct themselves in life, and women, too? Do we let events lead our actions or our actions lead events? This is certainly not Harry Potter, not by any means.
The brilliance of a write is not in how clever he or she is in stringing words together nor is in the creation of a new method or presenting prose. It is the quality of the writer’s thought that matters. What is the writer trying to say, what is his point and why should I read him? If reading is just another way to occupy my time then I may as well watch television or text on my iPhone. Shut my mouth and close my mind, no need to think. Is that all you have to offer in life to a reader?