Most Popular Themes in Literature

In most modern literature, a literary theme is the central point, theme, or major message in a story. The themes of literary works can be broadly classified into two categories: the thematic idea of the story and its main thematic idea being it’s “what the story says about the theme” and its interpretation. With regard to the first category, it is the literary themes which in principle are self-referential – i.e. that they refer to themselves and their objects and events.

Self-referential themes

A number of thematic concepts appear in literature and are self-referential, though other literary themes are dependent on the existence of other literary elements such as plot, character, dialogue, and other devices. However, the existence of these other literary elements does not deny the existence of the main literary themes, for they are the pre-eminent elements in defining the theme and determining its meaning. They also determine the theme’s motivation, logic, and content.

For example, in romantic literature, the themes usually concern the passage of time, the transformation of characters, the overcoming of external conflict, reconciliation, and eternal love, etc. Though the themes in this category vary considerably according to the nature and medium of literature, most of them center on the idea of timelessness and the eternal recurrence of the characters, events, and themes in the same story. Thus, the characters are not changed, although the circumstances change from time to time, the basic elements of the plot remain the same and the characters have the same characteristics and motivations.

On the other hand, in the non-literary category, we find a number of different types of thematic plots. In short stories, the plots may be very simple, i.e. they may involve only two or three characters, but in novels, the plot is developed so that the central character develops a series of relationships with various minor characters, who in turn develop their own series of relationships with various other minor and main characters. The most famous of such novels are the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, in which there are four main characters and twelve minor characters. However, the development of the plot varies from novel to novel.

Love and romance

A novel may contain literary themes. The most common of these themes are love and romance, gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, justice and fairness, courage and weakness, honor and dishonor, heaven and earth, light and dark, magic and darkness, war and peace, and above all these are the major themes. However, it must be remembered that the development of these themes is not a static process, but the development occurs in a progressive manner, hence, the development of one such theme is followed by the development of the others. Thus, the development of one theme leads to the development of the others. This leads to an unbroken chain reaction. Hence, a novel can be termed as a literary work when its plot contains literary themes and it depicts the adventures of its characters through various stages of its development.


Another form of literary themes as those found in religion and literature. In religious works, the development of literary themes goes hand in hand with the depiction of the rise and fall of various religions, gods, and characters. The most popular of these religious themes are the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, the Greek Mythology (Heracles, Apollo, and Odysseus), the Christian mythology of the Bible, and the Islamic works based on Islamic and Arabic cultures. In literature, the development of these common themes is also associated with certain periods in history, like the Ancient Greek period, the Medieval period, and the Modern period.

Literary themes are used by many writers in literature and they vary according to the theme of the novel. Some of the most popular of these themes are love/hate, redemption, the quest for meaning, and the parental theme. In novels where the protagonist is the main character, the theme may revolve around that specific character.


If the protagonist in a story is not the protagonist, the theme will have different significance. For instance, if a story involves a man who loves his daughter but wants to marry another woman so that he can fulfill his obligation to his first love, he may create a theme of disloyalty. The writer, therefore, needs to understand his readers before he decides on the specific theme to write. He needs to explain what the theme of the novel will be, and how it affects the protagonist.