Hello everyone and welcome back to Theory Thursday. Today I am going to be talking about form and themes and how they should compliment each other, adding to the enjoyment of a text.
What is form? What is a theme? How do they compliment each other? Keep reading and find out.
Form, in its most simple definition refers to how a piece of writing is structured. So, readers should pay attention to how a piece of writing is organised, and structured, and keep an eye out for what type of language is used. Is it ordinary? Is it metrical? Don’t worry if you are unsure of what these terms mean, that’s what I’m here for. For example, there are different types of form. One of them is nonfiction prose and the point of nonfiction prose is to convey to the reader facts about reality, so the language used in nonfiction prose is usually straightforward, ordinary, non-metrical, easy to understand language because that is what gets the writer’s point across to readers.
Theme, in its most simple definition is the text’s main idea or underlying message. An easy way to identify the theme or themes of a text is to first look at the plot. When you look at the plot, the theme or themes become easier to recognise. Common themes would be love, death, rich versus poor etc.
For example, if one looks at Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, the play’s dominant theme is love as the entire plot revolves around the intense, passionate and yet forbidden love between Romeo and Juliet. There are other themes in this play, individuality vs society – this can be recognised through Romeo and Juliet deciding to be true to themselves and be together rather than feuding as their families expect them too etc. Violence of course is another theme because of this age-old feud and there is a lot of deaths in this play so as you can see, once one becomes familiar with a text’s plot, it becomes easier to form opinions about what one interprets the theme to be. I think an easy way to approach it is when thinking about a text and what it’s theme or themes may be is to think about what lesson you think you took from it. When you figure out what you learned from a text, you can begin to understand the messages that were presented in that text in order to teach that lesson. It may sound complicated, but the more you read and the more you watch films, the easier this will become.
In this section, I am going to talk about how form and theme can compliment each other and to do so, I am going to use an example. I am going to be talking about James Joyce’s Ulysses, specifically Episode Eighteen, Penelope. The reason I have chosen this text is because Joyce’s writing style has sometimes been described as hard to follow, but I think that if one takes a closer look, they will find that his style makes sense in the context of the stories he is trying to tell, and it actually enhances them.
Joyce writes about ordinary people who are living their ordinary lives and they are content. His work is incredibly relatable because Joyce writes about people who exist in real life and in Ulysses, his writing reads like a stream of consciousness as though readers are experiencing the character’s thoughts with them as they happen. If one looks at Episode Eighteen, Penelope, I think they will see why it could be argued that Joyce’s choice of form in this episode is what makes it a notable read. Joyce writes from the perspective of the character Molly, and he writes her perspective in eight ‘sentences’, that are separated by paragraph breaks and he does not use any punctuation.
In my opinion, this choice of form, this free- flowing stream of consciousness really compliments the way Joyce is sharing Molly’s thoughts because when reading them, it feels as though we are experiencing her thoughts with her as she has them. Her thoughts change rapidly and she bounces from one thought to another so upon one’s first reading, it may not seem very coherent, however thoughts are not always coherent. This may sound very confusing, but within this freestyle form a pattern is established. Molly has a thought, she is processing it, she gets distracted and thinks of something else, and then she circles back to her original thought.
I think this is a fairly relatable thing, I’m sure we have all been thinking only to get distracted and then bring our attention back to the task at hand. Molly’s thoughts are unedited so therefore, Joyce’s writing style appears unedited. I think this is particularly brilliant because it is so relatable. We don’t edit our thoughts in real life, we simply think. The use of form here makes Molly a well-rounded, relatable character and the themes and emotions that are presented in this piece, lust, annoyance, etc, are not coherent emotions either. If someone is seething with anger, then their thoughts may not be rational or coherent so again, this choice of form is very well matched to the emotions that are being presented. So, in this episode, Joyce’s choice of form really lends itself to the emotions he is depicting and in my opinion, this text, specifically this episode is a really good example of how form and theme can work together and compliment each other, which leads to the text having more meaning.
In short, the free-flowing, unpunctuated form compliments the real, unedited human emotions and themes that Joyce is presenting in Ulysses.
Why do we need to know about form and theme?
I think that if you are an avid reader, then writing styles and themes are things that you will naturally start to notice over time. You will begin to see that one book may be written very differently to another, and if you notice that but are unsure of how to describe it, I’ll make it simple for you. You are starting to notice form. The way a text is written can really impact how much readers enjoy it. The way a text is written can impact how much readers understand it, so I would say that like all aspects of literary theory, form is important because it can add to our understanding and enjoyment of a text. Themes are important because they are what the text is about, what was the message? What did we take away from that story? Why does our favourite story mean so much to us? Why is a certain text extremely important or educationical? It is usually because of the themes a text presents and the message it conveys, so again in my opinion, having an understanding of theme will only add to your reading and/or viewing experiences.
So, this has been Theory Theory. I hope you enjoyed my breakdown of form and themes. Next week on Theory Thursday I will breakdown Rate and Pace, which will come in handy for job interviews, presentations, any kind of public speaking or even if you’d just like to become a more confident speaker in general it’ll really help you out. Make sure to check it out next week on Theory Thursday and if you have any questions about form and theme then let me know. I’d love to hear from you.