Theme in writing

To complete my original task of delineating the 6 major aspects of writing, today I'll talk about themes.

The word "theme' is not unfamiliar. We go to theme parks, we know that TV shows have theme music and the old-fashioned word for an essay is theme. Decorators have themes (color schemes, seasons of the year) and sermons have themes (sin, redemption).

The defines theme as follows (note the derivation, from Greek to Latin to Old French to Middle to English to Modern English):
theme  (thm)
1. A topic of discourse or discussion. See Synonyms at subject.
2. A subject of artistic representation.
3. An implicit or recurrent idea; a motif: a theme of powerlessness that runs through the diary; a party with a tropical island theme.
4. A short composition assigned to a student as a writing exercise.
5. Music The principal melodic phrase in a composition, especially a melody forming the basis of a set of variations.
6. Linguistics A stem.
7. Linguistics See topic.
tr.v. themed, them·ing, themes
Usage Problem To provide with a particular topic or motif. See Usage Note at themed.

[Middle English teme, theme, from Old French tesme, from Latin thema, from Greek; see dh- in Indo-European roots.]

Langston Hughes by photographer Gordon Parks for the U.S. Office of War Information of 1943

Here's a poem about a theme:


By Langston Hughes

The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you---
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me---who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white---
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me---
although you're older---and white---
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.


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