7 – Theme

7.1 Defining Theme

In previous chapters, we examined in some detail how prose fiction is constructed and communicated—how stories are shaped by the arrangement of events into a plot, environments into a setting, and characters into characterization. We have also looked at the ways narrative discourse can be articulated to effectively communicate stories to the reader, including narration and specific features of language. We have not yet addressed what is perhaps the most crucial question any reader asks when dealing with a story: what does it mean?

At the beginning of this book, we defined narrative as the semiotic representation of a sequence of events, meaningfully connected by time and cause. But what do we mean by “meaningful”? Are we speaking about the meaning that authors give to narratives they write or about the meaning readers give to the narratives they read? We have already argued that meaning is negotiated between authors and readers, but what happens when authorial intention diverges from reader response? Should the intention of the author be the standard with which we determine the meaning of a narrative text? Or should we recognize that each reader interprets narrative texts from a subjective perspective, often generating meaning that is at least as valid as what’s imagined by the author? If we accept and embrace subjectivity, how may teachers and graders recognize quality scholarly work from students? Isn’t unfettered proliferation of perspectives just the kind of squishiness that makes the Liberal Arts (and English courses in particular) a tough sell for the analytically minded?

While literary theory has been asking these questions for a long time,1 in this chapter we explore the elements of meaning that can be identified in narrative discourse, whether they are articulated by writers or readers. These elements of meaning are what we call themes. The plural (“themes”) reflects the fact that meanings in fiction are always multiple and changing. A theme, therefore, is simply a meaning identified by an interpreter of narrative discourse. It is important to stress that themes require interpretation to emerge, whether by an author, critic, or any other reader. It is in this sense that themes connect narrative discourse—and the story conveyed by this discourse—with the lifeworld of readers and writers.

In this final chapter, we first study the concept of theme and locate its expression in prose fiction. Then we discuss how narratives often explore themes relating to identity and otherness, particularly in connection with race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. What is impolitic in polite conversation is often the subject of theme in fiction, and literary prose frequently challenges readers’ existing assumptions, prejudices, and worldviews. An important notion in the analysis of meaning in narrative is ideology, which encompasses the ideas, values, and beliefs that structure a worldview. As we will see, every narrative is ideological, but ideology can be expressed in different ways in each text, sometimes loudly. This discussion will lead us to final considerations regarding the moral and political significance of prose fiction, particularly in the modern world. We will see that some narratives attempt to persuade readers of a moral truth, while others provide a more ambiguous or complex representation of human morality. The function of short stories and novels, as well as other literary texts, has often been the object of passionate discussions. As a conclusion to this textbook, we will consider whether prose fiction is inherently political and what the answer means for students of fiction and novice scholars attempting to strike objective, academic tones in analytical essays.

7.2 The Meaning of Narrative

When someone asks what a short story or novel is about, we tend to respond with a synopsis or summary of the plot. The only thing we do in a synopsis is to identify the key existents in the story, including events, environments, and characters, and explain them in our own words. But a synopsis is not a proper answer when someone asks what the story means, a key challenge in any essay about theme. To respond to this question, we must identify and give an interpretation of at least one theme in the narrative. Themes are elements of discourse, not of the story. They tell us what the story means, not for the characters in the storyworld, but for anyone who has an interpretative perspective on the story.

Themes are often identified explicitly by narrators when they tell the story and add some form of commentary, whether it is to interpret, judge, generalize, or reflect on the events, environments, and characters of the storyworld (see Chapter 5). While the interpreter in this case is part of narrative discourse, the theme is usually also relevant for the actual readers, who might agree or disagree with the framing of the theme provided by the narrator. In many short stories and novels, especially those with an omniscient narrative voice, the themes explicitly identified by the narrator reflect themes that the author has intentionally introduced into the narrative and to which she is often attached. For example, the omniscient narrator of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin clearly identifies the immorality of slavery (Fig. 7.1). This conviction is at the heart of the author’s intention when writing the book, and it has been shared by many of its readers throughout the years. Fiction that sets out to educate or persuade readers is often described as didactic, which has pejorative meaning in everyday speech but is simply a classification in literary studies.


Fig. 7.1 Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1852), Internet Archive Book Images, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia. org/wiki/File:Uncle_Tom%27s_cabin_-_ or,_life_among_the_lowly_(1852)_ (14586176090).jpg

In many other stories, however, the themes are not explicitly identified. This might be because the narrator refrains from making explicit commentary about the story, for instance when narration is conveyed by an objective narrative voice. Themes in Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” for example, seem to include the moral ambiguity of abortion and gendered power dynamics in couples. But these themes are never expressed by the journalistic narrator, who merely conveys the words and gestures of the couple in a forsaken train station, leaving readers to develop their own interpretations. Despite its heavy moral implications, “Hills Like White Elephants” is non-didactic and may best be described as mimetic, attempting to capture the complexity of human relationships.

Similarly, when the narrator is inwardly focalized and has limited knowledge or perspective about the storyworld, her opinions or comments might not reflect the actual themes of the narrative. This is generally the case with unreliable narrators, who are not fully aware of the meaning of the story they tell. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, is narrated by Scout, a six-year-old girl, who does not understand the meaning of the tragic events she experiences. Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one key theme of the book is the immorality of racial inequality, but since the child cannot frame or express it, at least not in those terms, this theme can only emerge from the interpretation of readers. As with many of our concepts in this textbook, theme may be explicit or implicit.

Regarding theme, internal narrators are in a similar position to other characters in the storyworld, the only difference being that at least they know that they are telling a story. Non-narrating characters only exist in the storyworld and take part in the story, but they are generally not aware of the story as a story. Thus, unlike the narrator, they are not able to add commentary or give an interpretation of the meaning of events, environments, and characters at the level of narrative discourse. In many cases, however, characters express aspects of theme, in the form of subjective or general reflections about crucial elements of meaning in the story. This is most common in so-called philosophical novels, which often include long dialogues or monologues where characters develop ideas or opinions that connect with the themes of the story. This is the case in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, for example, where the brothers Ivan and Alyosha engage in a passionate discussion about God and morality, which reveals many of the themes in the novel. And yet, it is only when an external interpreter links these statements with the overall structure of the story that themes emerge.

Finally, themes should not be confused with motifs. If themes are elements of meaning in narrative discourse, motifs are existents that recur throughout the story and often acquire a symbolic significance. For example, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, the green light that shines at the end of the bay across from Gatsby’s mansion is a motif that seems to represent or symbolize his enchantment with Daisy Buchanan and his hopes inspired by a lost past. Broadly, because Gatsby is himself a symbolic character, the motif represents the American dream. Insofar as motifs are usually symbolic, their meaning tends to relate to narrative theme. This is the reason why motifs are sometimes called ‘minimal thematic units.’2 A key theme in The Great Gatsby is the decadence and unreality of the American dream; and motifs like the green light (or Gatsby’s yellow Rolls-Royce) reinforce and highlight this theme throughout the narrative.

7.3 Identity

As mentioned at the beginning of this book, narrative is the fundamental way by which we humans make sense of ourselves and our world. Our own identity is perhaps little more than a narrative, a story that we tell ourselves and others about who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. But our identity is also constructed by others, as they tell stories about us, make judgments about us, and place us in the context of social narratives over which we generally have little control. The complex dynamic of identity—how we construct ourselves and are constructed by others—is therefore an essential aspect of narrative in all its forms.

In modern times, prose has become a privileged vehicle for the construction of individual and collective identities, as well as for the construction of difference that sustains and demarcates social identification. Only through narrative fiction can we share (or think we share) the subjective experience of other people, access their thoughts, and participate from within in their life decisions. We have called this power “spooky empathy at a distance” in our introductory materials. This illusion created by fiction is a powerful way to reinforce identification with a given in-group, as well as to approach and try to understand out-groups. But the same illusion can also distance readers from out-groups portrayed in ways that reinforce social stereotypes and negative biases.3 A crucial theme in many short stories and novels is precisely the social process of defining oneself and others, particularly in relation to two important dimensions of subjectivity: gender and ethnicity.

Gender refers to the set of characteristics that differentiate the social constructs male and female. Beyond traditional gender distinctions, however, human beings develop their own gender identity based on subjective and social factors. These same factors are often reflected in the themes of short stories and novels, particularly in the depiction of male and female characters and the different roles or psychological traits that narrative discourse assigns to them. As men dominated the literary arts for centuries, many stories were written from an androcentric perspective, casting women in subordinate or dependent roles—often presenting them as ambivalent objects of male desire and repulsion.4 This construction of the female other in narratives mostly written by men can be seen, for example, in William Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, where women are characterized as either angelic creatures like Emmy Sedley or as dangerous temptresses like Becky Sharp. This binary and inhuman representation of femininity serves to support patriarchal values and discourses. We need not engage in political judgment to acknowledge this historical fact about pre-20th century literature.

Before the 20th century, only a few female writers, such as Charlotte Brontë or George Eliot, had the opportunity to break social restrictions to produce short stories and novels that represented female subjectivity and agency. Women who did publish often had to comply with the dominant worldviews of a patriarchal society (see Fig. 7.2). In the long history of literary fiction, it is a recent development that women, as well as other minority groups such as LGBTQIA+ people, have been able to use prose fiction to openly explore themes of gender identity and sexuality, or simply to speak with their own creative voice about themes traditionally the purview of heterosexual men. A novel like Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, for example, mixes personal, professional, literary, political, and feminist themes into a fragmentary narrative that replicates the fragmentation of female consciousness amid social struggle.


‘Young Woman Drawing’ (1801), oil on canvas by Marie-Denise Villers depicting an independent feminine spirit (possibly a self-portrait), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia. org/wiki/File:Villers_Young_Woman_Drawing.jpg

Ethnicity is another vital theme in modern narrative, as numerous acclaimed stories and novels reflect upon power, oppression, and resistance in the context of colonialism, racism, immigration, nationalism, and other interethnic dynamics. Prose fiction, at least in its modern form, originated in European culture at precisely the same time as Europeans began a worldwide expansion that allowed them to achieve economic, military, and cultural hegemony at the expense of other peoples. Revealing an entrenched ethnocentrism, the European narratives of this period often portray others as inferior, docile, or underdeveloped, sustaining in more or less explicit terms the colonial project of Western powers.5 One example of this kind of racialism and cultural imperialism can be found in Gustave Flaubert’s novel Salammbô, whose themes of oriental sensuality, exoticism, and corruption reflect and strengthen a stereotypical and objectifying view of Middle-Eastern and non-European others.

Ben’s Bonus Bit – Thinking and Writing about Race

The American literary tradition, well into the modernist era and the mid-20th century, largely reflects white ethnocentric attitudes, with manifest destiny, slavery, and Jim Crow laws adding to the bleak American record on race. Especially sensitive white authors, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, may appear to transcend their historical moments in their racial attitudes but often nevertheless contribute to racial stereotypes. Despite existing in an anti-slavery novel, the eponymous figure of Uncle Tom, for example, has come to represent excessive passivity and subservience for many African Americans.6

Fiction from other famously progressive authors, such as Mark Twain or William Faulkner, also reflects the ingrained racialism of the time. While significant progress in de-centering whiteness in narrative discourse occurred during the Harlem Renaissance (1918-1930s) and again in the Civil Rights era, the project of revisiting the American Literary canon to reflect the true diversity of voices in the country is ongoing. Because education, like any other institution, reflects the values of those with controlling power, authors studied in literature courses remained disproportionately white and male for decades following the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nonetheless, 20th-century Black authors of prose fiction, such as WEB DuBois, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka, Octavia Butler, Alex Haley, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison (among others) are largely responsible for distinguishing American fiction from the European literary tradition and remain hugely influential for American writers of all ethnicities today. Because of its prominent, on-going role in American social and political life, race remains an especially salient theme in American literary fiction.

Novice scholars, including international students, writing about race must take care to understand the nuance in racial politics for American audiences. Consider the question of capitalization for the label “Black.” Consider the question of non-Black writers using, even in a critical way, the n-word in their essays. Consider the need to recognize racial stereotypes when they appear in 20th-century fiction. Consider the vital concern of avoiding over-generalization or treating Black authors as a monolith, erasing individuality. Modern readers raised in the era of #BLM cannot assume universal race-consciousness and ideological unity among significant Black authors, even if the general bend of African-American fiction from this time is toward racial justice. For example, Amiri Baraka once described Ralph Ellison “as a middle-class Negro for his insistence that mastery of literary craft must take priority over politics in a writer’s apprenticeship.”7 As with any culturally significant and sensitive theme, student authors should write about race with care and consideration for difference in interpretation. When in doubt, ground your analysis in textual evidence and use qualifiers to temper bold or sweeping claims.

As the process of decolonization gave way to a postcolonial and globalized world after the Second World War, previously colonized and other non-Western peoples struggled to recover their own identity and sense of agency (see Fig. 7.3). Storytelling as been and remains a powerful tool for self-actualization. This is the case, for example, in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, a novel dealing with the destructive consequences of Western colonialism in Africa from the point of view of the colonized. Significant post-colonial authors of prose fiction include Salmon Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jean Rhys, Derek Walcott, Jamaica Kincaid, Edward Said, Wole Soyinka, Buchi Emecheta, V. S. Naipal, Edwidge Danticat, David Henry Hwang, Jumpa Lahiri, Michael Ondaatje, Naguib Mahfouz, and many, many others.


Fig. 7.3 Mural of Frantz Fanon, author of The Wretched of the Earth, Public Domain, https://www.flickr.com/photos/montrealprotest/19582249739

7.4 Ideology

We call ideology the interconnected set of beliefs, ideas, values, and norms that structure the worldview of a person or group. Ideology is generally invisible, especially for the individuals or groups whose views and opinions are largely defined by it. For example, a devout Christian or Buddhist will probably not identify his beliefs as constituting an ideological view of the world but rather the way things actually are. But all of us are, in one way or another, subject to different ideological positions, whether we adhere to rationalism, liberalism, communism, humanism, or other structured systems of thought and value. These ideologies influence to a large extent the meanings we ascribe to ourselves and to everything else in our lifeworld, including other people.

Narrative discourse is particularly effective at communicating ideological views without stating or even recognizing them. If a narrative manages to convince readers that its storyworld is a verisimilar representation of their own lifeworld, the ideology that structures its discourse is likely to be tacitly accepted as a valid and credible one. This is why narratives are often used, consciously or not, to sustain the ideologies of certain social groups, usually those that have more power, or at least the capacity to produce and propagate their discourses more effectively throughout society.8 At the same time, however, narratives are also used, again, consciously or not, by other groups with less power in society, as they attempt to resist dominant ideologies and express their own set of values and beliefs.

Prose fiction has been, and continues to be, an important vehicle for conveying or contesting ideology, whether explicitly or implicitly. In fact, there is no fictional narrative whose discourse does not express in one way or another at least one ideological position, just as there is no individual or collective opinion that is not ideological. Communication deliberately stripped of ideological import is itself aggressively ideological, often pro status quo. Only those who enjoy social privilege may position themselves as identity-free, neutral, or otherwise objective.

There are four different ways in which ideology is represented in the narrative discourse of short stories and novels:

  • Concealed: prose fiction can embrace an ideology implicitly, without recognizing it as an ideological commitment. This kind of ideology often impregnates the representation of the storyworld (events, environments, characters) or narrative discourse (narration, language, theme). For example, in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and other novels about the secret agent James Bond, many descriptions denote the masculine, imperialistic, and capitalistic worldview of British elites after the Second World War, from the sports cars Bond drives to the enemies he fights against, the women he seduces, or the language he speaks
  • Committed: prose fiction can also embrace an ideology explicitly, hoping to convince readers of the truthfulness of its tenets. Socialist realist novels, such as Maxim Gorky’s The Mother, openly advocate the ideals and values of socialism by portraying the working class as a heroic agent of political, cultural, and economic transformation towards a better society, against the opposition of self-interested groups like the capitalists or the aristocracy
  • Critical: fiction is sometimes critical of dominant ideologies without embracing or committing to an alternative. George Orwell’s 1984 (Fig. 7.4), for example, offers a bleak depiction of a totalitarian society in a dystopian future to criticize both the capitalist and socialist ideologies struggling for world dominance during the Cold War
  • Ambiguous: some fiction presents an ambivalent or ambiguous view of alternative ideological positions. For instance, ideologies can be advocated or symbolized by different characters, as in Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain, where the liberal, humanistic, religious, conservative, hedonistic, and nihilistic ideologies prevalent in Europe around the First World War are conveyed through the actions and opinions of characters in the story. Ideologies can also be represented directly by the events, environments, and characters of an alternative storyworld, as in Ursula K. Le Guin’s science-fiction novel The Dispossessed, where two different planets, one based on hierarchical capitalism, the other on authoritarian communism, cooperate and compete with each other in a fictional universe.


Fig. 7.4 Poster depicting Big Brother’s slogan from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. By Frederic Guimont, Free Art Licence, https://commons. wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cropped-big-brother-is-watching-1984.png

7.5 Morality

Some fictional stories try to convey an unambiguous moral message or lesson. We call this message the moral or thesis of the narrative. If there is a moral, it is always one of the most relevant themes in the narrative. But there might be other themes besides the thesis that the narrative touches upon. The moral is an aspect of narrative discourse, not of the story. It is an idea, theory, or lesson that the implied author tries to persuade the implied reader to accept.

A moral can be explicitly stated in the narrative, but it can also be left implicit. Traditional narrative genres like the fable or parable often have morals, even if these morals are not always explicit. Fables present supernatural characters, often nonhuman animals who act like humans (see our discussion of zoomorphism and anthropomorphism) to convey a moral lesson, while parables present ambiguous or puzzling situations and dilemmas to provide the lesson obliquely. These genres were popular in the past, when it was often assumed that literature’s main function was to educate readers (didactic fiction) and provide them with some sort of moral guidance. To a certain extent, this is still the case in modern literature, but the kinds of lessons that narrative and other forms of literary discourse provide today tend to be more ambivalent and controversial.

Novels that have a clear didactic purpose and expound a moral or philosophical message are sometimes called thesis novels (from the French, “roman à thèse”). An example of this kind of novel is Voltaire’s Candide, which tells in a sarcastic tone the story of a young man whose optimistic worldview is repeatedly shaken by the hardships and disasters of the real world. Similarly, the term “Pollyanna,” which means a blindly optimistic person, comes from the 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter.



Fig. 7.5 Oscar Wilde (1884), photographic print on card mount: albume. By Napoleon Sarony, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:A_Wilde_time_3.jpg

In general, however, moral lessons in modern prose fiction tend not to constitute the whole theme of the narrative, as in thesis novels. To be sure, modern fiction often explicitly and unambiguously presents a moral thesis, especially in children’s or popular genres, as in the Harry Potter series. But for the most part, literature is no longer tasked with the education of readers. Rather, it is expected that it will present them with moral or existential alternatives that reflect the complexities and uncertainties of life. Moral lessons, therefore, are often mixed with other themes and ideas, which may even contradict or undermine moral certitude. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, for example, the moral dualism that drives the plot and constitutes the main theme of the narrative is undercut by the realization that good and evil cannot be easily distinguished from one another, much less decanted as if they were separate essences. In fact, as modern narratives often imply, morality is more a matter of perspective and interpretation, rather than a set of absolute principles or rules that people should follow.

One important consequence of this moral relativism is the modern view that short stories and novels should not refrain from showing what is ugly, unpleasant, improper, or revolting about life and human nature. As one of the characters in Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray says, “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame” (see Fig. 7.5).9

7.6 Art and Politics

A question that has often stirred controversy amongst writers and readers is whether literary narratives should be used as instruments to achieve political and social ends. As we have seen, the idea that narratives, including short stories and novels, have a didactic function is not a modern one. Narratives have traditionally conveyed moral lessons and worldviews that tended to reflect the ideologies of writers and the societies in which they lived. Even when these ideologies were concealed, instead of being explicitly stated in narrative discourse, they still exercised an influence on readers and had therefore an impact on social and political developments.

Dominant ideologies, when presented as convincing narrative fictions, can make partial worldviews held by specific social groups seem natural and common-sensical. In the past, institutions like slavery, colonialism, or patriarchy, which today are generally considered oppressive and unacceptable, were held as incontrovertible by most reasonable and well-educated people. And narratives reflected those values and ideas in the same way that today’s narratives might reflect the values and ideas associated with capitalism, democracy, socialism, multiculturalism, or other ideological positions that occupy current political debates.

What should writers do in relation to these ideas and controversies? Should they use their narratives to intervene in political argument, even to the point of providing a platform to propagate a certain ideology and persuade readers to embrace it? Or should they refrain from taking a political stance and from trying to convert readers to their cause, while concentrating instead on perfecting their art?

Both positions have been defended in modern times by writers and critics. For some like the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, author of the novel Nausea, writers cannot isolate themselves from reality and have the responsibility to use narratives to express their political commitment in the face of the exploitation and injustice found in the world. For others, a writer should not be bound to any ideology or asked to become the preacher for any cause, no matter how noble or justified it might be. This position is exemplified by Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce’s fictional alter ego in his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, for whom the writer should aim “to discover the mode of life or of art whereby the spirit can express itself in unfettered freedom.”10

At a time when many writers of fiction struggle with the economics of publishing and the practical concerns of supporting their families, it might seem idle to ask these questions. But even when authors are not aware of their own motivations or responsibilities, their stories, recreated at every reading by the imagination of countless readers, continue nonetheless to impact the world. Whether prose fiction can make the world a better place, helping us to confront its injustices and immoralities, is still an open question.

As students of literature, it is your duty to make arguments about the significance of fiction for readers and for society. Armed with the common vocabulary of literary criticism and semiotics, endeavor to make sophisticated, evidence-based, significant claims about the meaning of literature you study in your course essays. Where this text ends, your voice must begin. The academic conversation about literature is noisy, theoretically complex, and unceasing, but there’s room for you among those of us who think seriously about fiction. With this textbook supporting you, you’re primed to contribute. We can’t wait to hear your ideas.

7.7 Summary

  • Themes are meanings identifiable in narrative discourse by anyone who has an interpretive perspective on the story, whether it is a narrator, author, or reader
  • Many themes in modern fiction deal with the dynamics and conflicts of identity (the construction of the self) and alterity (the construction of others), particularly in relation to gender and ethnicity
  • All narratives express some form of ideology—a structured set of values, ideas, and beliefs—whether discourse conceals it, commits explicitly to further it, criticizes it, or represents it in ambiguous terms
  • Some short stories and novels convey an explicit moral, or thesis, and attempt to convince readers to accept it, while others might convey implicit or ambivalent moral lessons
  • It is a matter of some controversy whether prose fiction should promote social good or pure artistry, free from external aims (if such a thing is possible). As a student of literature, it falls to you to make sophisticated, evidence-based claims about the significance of fiction. This textbook, by teaching you the vocabulary of our field, has empowered you to just that end.

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

Ignasi Ribó, Prose Fiction: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2019. https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0187

Version History: Created new verso art. Added quick links. Bolded keywords. Made minor phrasing edits for American audiences. Massaged paragraph 2 to highlight skepticism of the Liberal Arts. Altered “alterity” to “otherness.” Added “race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, or religion” to Ribo’s existing gender and ethnicity lenses. Adopted MLA style for punctuation. Changed paragraphing for PressBooks adaptation. Moved footnotes to endnotes. Added reference to Gatsby’s yellow Rolls-Royce. Added list of post-colonial authors. Included vocabulary: mimetic, zoomorphism, anthropomorphism, and Pollyanna. Edited the concluding paragraphs to reflect the economic realities of publishing fiction. Added new final paragraph to speak to the duties of students in L204. Created “Ben’s Bonus Bits,” with a host of new vocabulary. Altered Summary to reflect additions, October, 2021.

Linked bolded keywords to Glossary and improved Alt-image text for accessibility, July, 2022.


End Notes

  1. For an introduction to these and other debates in literary theory, see Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008); Jonathan D. Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  2. Gerald Prince. A Dictionary of Narratology (Lincoln , NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), p. 97.
  3. On this point, see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story” (TED Global, July 2009), https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_ a_single_story
  4. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000).
  5. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1979).
  6. See Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies (1994) by Patricia Turner.
  7. See Charles Johnson’s Preface to Ralph Ellison’s novel Juneteenth.
  8. See Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction (London, UK: Verso, 1991).
  9. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ed. by Robert Mighall (London, UK: Penguin, 2003), p. 208.
  10. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 207.


Adichie, Chimamanda N. ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ (TED Global, July 2009), https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_ story

Culler, Jonathan D. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Eagleton, Terry. Ideology: An Introduction (London, UK: Verso, 1991).

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

Ellison, Ralph, John F. Callahan, and Charles Johnson. Juneteenth: A Novel. Random House, 2000. Print.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000).

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Prince, Gerald. A Dictionary of Narratology (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003).

Said, Edward W. Orientalism (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1979).

Turner, Patricia A. Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies: Black Images and Their Influence on Culture. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. Print.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray, ed. by Robert Mighall (London, UK: Penguin, 2003).


Cover image created by Ben Storey, using assets from Ady Setiawan and Thomas Budach on Pixabay.



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