On Monday I introduced you to Thomas McCormack and his devastating critique of the way theme is taught. On Tuesday I talked about how emphasizing theme and ‘important’ literary works actually discourages some (if not many) students from reading and learning. A helpful reader provided more ammunition in the comments.
The consistent theme in these arguments is that theme should not be deployed as an analytical tool. Readers, students and teachers have more insightful measures by which to judge literature and writing — a sampling of which awaits you in the conclusion of Mr. McCormack’s document. Too, at the highest levels of academia criticism is always in flux, meaning determinations of theme are not simply potentially speculative but inherently transitory.
In short, using theme to reveal meaning in a story is like using divining rods to discover water underground. Many people swear by it, but it has no basis in fact. Theme as a creative technique, however, can be a powerful means of organizing and expressing ideas. By understanding theme in this context we not only learn how to use it appropriately, but also gain insight into why theme is poorly taught, and how theme can be so easily turned to nefarious purposes. (A subject I’ll tackle tomorrow.) [ Read more ]