Not a Theme In

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Quotes)

Within the English canon, professors and scholars have established what constitutes as a prominent theme (or themes) within a work. Themes such as jealousy and envy are typically prevalent in Shakespearean plays. Themes such as honor and loyalty are prevalent in medieval works that include the character King Arthur.

Themes that point to issues with social marginality, racial divide, separation, and alienation are ones that are appropriate for African American literature and other culture texts. This is the canon. The canon not only includes a list of authoritative works but also the themes embedded within these works.

Every student wants to be original and incorporate a different and contemporary theme into a paper. Students project on the immediate text ideas and themes that are nowhere present within the actual work. When your professor says this (your theme) is not a theme in this (canonical text), he or she is saying to you that you have misread the text. You are not looking at the immediate text as it is presented to you, which represents all its ideas and notions illustrated by the author. You have included a theme that is not a part of the original canon.

Think about the seller of a car. Typically, the car dealership or the owner will write “As is” on a car, which tells you that you are getting the car as it is presented to you with all of its errors and potential mishaps. You can’t say to the car owner paint the car red and then I will buy it. You have to take the car as you see it presently.

The same line of thought applies to developing analysis from the immediate text. Within the body of your paper, you can’t project a theme on a text that is not already part of the canon. However, you can in the extended discussion/conclusion of your paper examine the underlying ideas and potential assumptions of a theme. In this section of your paper, you may wish to examine the ideas you have expressed by applying a theme that is not in the canon.

Only in the conclusion section can you carry out this task. Just remember you can’t apply the theme from an African-American text to a medieval text because “culture” (and “cultural”) is primarily a twentieth century term. Good food for thought.

For an extended explanation, see also the comments “An interesting idea, but it doesn’t work in every example.” and “Examine Evidence from the Text.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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