Name That Literary Theme!

Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13734

Learn tips for identifying universal themes in literature, and apply your knowledge by matching literary quotations to their themes!


Comprehension, Literary Studies, Reading

English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Consider some of the most famous literary quotes you know.

  • What comes to mind?

Maybe Shakespeare:


Or Jane Austen:

jane austen

  • What does the quote tell you about the story?
  • What does it reveal about the story's main idea?

Keep scrollin' scrollin' scrollin' to find out!

What Are Universal Themes?

Universal themes are generalities or commonalities based on the human condition that can transcend differences in space and time.

They are relatable concepts of human behavior and experience that are applicable to most readers and create opportunities for readers to engage and connect with literature on both a micro (small, personal) and macro (large, universal) level.

Universal themes are ideas based on very broad topics like love, war, and death; however, they hone in on a specific aspect of these ideas.

Here are some examples:

  love conquers all
  forbidden love
  parental love
  grieving a loved one
  existential considerations of life and death
  facing the horrors of war
  fighting for justice
  courage against all odds
  coming of age


Connecting Literature to Theme

  • How can you determine the theme in a work of literature?

Step back and consider the big ideas the story is trying to tell.

  • What is the main plot, and what is the main problem the protagonist faces?

These things are your biggest clues. Looking at the resolution to the main problem helps you determine what the author wants you to take away from the story.

Consider some of the most well-known works of literature, and try to determine their themes:

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So that is how theme and literature work together.

When you're ready, click through to the Got It? section for more guided practice.

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