Themes are simply subjects the author is concerned with. When we think of the elements of a novel, we tend to think rather glibly of ‘characters, plot, themes, style’ and so on; but we should recognise that ‘themes’ are different from these other elements, because the author does not identify and name them, we do. So, we might quite reasonably discuss a ‘theme of revenge’ in Wuthering Heights, and in our discussion we could look at Heathcliff’s long pursuit of revenge against both the Earnshaws and the Lintons, Hindley’s attempt to revenge himself upon Heathcliff, and Edgar Linton’s refusal to be reconciled to Isabella. This discussion might be enlightening and useful, but we should never forget that we chose the subject ‘revenge’. What is ‘revenge’? It follows ‘injury’, in the sense that Heathcliff was injured by Hindley’s tyranny and Catherine’s marriage; Edgar was injured by Heathcliff’s destruction of his marriage; Hindley was injured by Heathcliff stripping him of his authority and property. It stands to reason that there is no ‘revenge’ without prior ‘injury’. So, perhaps we should discuss a ‘theme of injury and revenge’ instead of just ‘revenge’? A theme, then, is a subject we think is important in the text, and it is selected and defined by us. A theme is also not a literal thing, created by the author, like a character or an event.
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