Theme parks such as Six Flags design rides and activities for the family. Everyone can come, and kids can ride and be happy. The day at the park is a time for fun and relaxation, a day for not thinking at all about the daily demands of each week. “Fun” and “Family” are the themes of such parks.

The general consensus of the owners is that if they provide as much fun on every ride, then you, as the visitor, will leave the park satisfied and not really care about the cost or how tired you feel after being there all day. The purpose of the theme park is to make your temporary stay feel almost similar to a longer one in that you never want to leave and will always want to come back.

When you write a paper, the comment “Theme?” may refer to one of four or all areas within your paper: 1) the professor questions whether the theme you use within the paper actually exists within the author’s work; 2) the professor questions whether you are using a theme within your paper; 3) the professor questions whether or not the theme you are using is unified throughout the paper, if it is a unified whole; and/or 4) the professor questions whether the theme (application of) has left him or her satisfied overall with the paper.

First, when you receive the test prompt for an essay exam from your professor instructing you to answer two out of three questions, your task doesn’t just begin there. It is true that you need to answer the question(s) based on what your professor wants you to do. If a question about the Canterbury Tales instructs you to discuss at least two tales and three out of four characters, then with such a question you must answer two tales, not one; and you must discuss at least 3 characters. You may decide to discuss more than three, but according to the question, you must write about a minimum of three.

Once you understand the logistics of the question, you now have to confront the task of understanding the themes. The same method above holds true; if the question calls for at least one theme, then you must choose at least one from among the options. This is the least of your worries, because now you know how to analyze the question. At the end of your task, your analysis must reflect a match not only to the test question, but also to the author’s work.

If the author writes about certain events, and to you these events are symbolic of, or they take the tone of, and this character is representative of, then your objective as the writer is to highlight these events according to literary practice. An author never writes with the purpose of being literary; the author never writes with the sole purpose of saying to the reader with these words, “John’s actions are symbolic of his distaste for the company.”

The person who isn’t the author—i.e., the observer, the student, the literary critic, and the professor—conducts “literary practice” and interprets the author’s work in such a way that the final product is a reflection of adherence to the canon (established themes). It is your job to point out within your paper the same themes your professor has discussed in class, because these themes represent a universal consensus.

Every student learns about Robert Frost and his poem in the same way in every college.  University professors outline the themes and simultaneously invite a discussion about anything else that may be present within the work; but never does the professor encourage a student to create any theme off the top of their head.

In this case, your professor questions whether the theme you are using in your paper actually exists within the work. You must discuss non-canonical themes within the extended discussion/conclusion section of your paper. Always stay true to the canon. You do this by discussing canonical themes within the body paragraphs of your papers.

When the professor questions whether you are using a theme in your paper, this happens most oftentimes when he assigns an essay exam or a take-home paper. The professor instructs you to use a theme(s). If you don’t use a theme, then your professor will write “Theme?” within the margins, because you are borderline in danger of earning a grade that is lower than the one you might have received.

Go back and reexamine your notes with the purpose of going over the themes your professor has outlined in lecture. These are the themes you want to discuss within your paper (i.e. the body paragraphs).

When your professor questions whether the theme you are using is unified throughout your paper, this happens when she believes that your ideas are interesting, but also thinks that the theme you use within the analysis doesn’t apply to every example. See the comment “An interesting idea, but it doesn’t work in every example.” for an explanation.

When your professor questions whether the theme has left him or her satisfied, this means that although you are using a theme, you have not fully developed one example (one ride) that refers to the theme. All themes have much to offer. In other words, a person who visits the theme park expects to have fun with “every” ride, regardless of how long it takes standing in the line to sit in the seat.

Your professor also visits every example within your paper, every ride, and expects to feel satisfied with how you use the theme within each example. If through the example you don’t provide details and you are not specific about a certain character’s issue and you don’t outline correlations and relationships, then you haven’t fully developed the example.

With such a misstep, you just mention but don’t elaborate. As a result, your professor isn’t satisfied with this ride, with the example that applies a theme to it. Make every ride within your paper enjoyable. Through your words, let your professor feel the pleasure and satisfaction that should come in reading every example.

For extended explanations, see also the comments “Analyze This,” “Elaborate” and “Not a Theme In.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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