Theme is an important element of literature because of its subtlety and this has been brought out very efficiently in the three pieces selected. The works chosen for analysis are two novels and a poem. The Novels are ‘Kite runner’ by Khaled Hosseini and ‘The sorrows of young Werther’ by Wolfgang von Goethe. The poem is ‘The road not taken’ by Robert Frost. These three pieces became famous because of their deep and moralistic themes.
Theme in the literary works
All the three works have some implied themes in that the opinions of the authors have not been explicitly stated but must be traced by a thorough analysis of the pieces. One major route to determining theme in all pieces is by looking at the personal experiences of the narrators. In Sorrows of young Werther, the protagonist – Werther – is presented with a series of predicaments that are quite painful to bear. First, he finds himself in an impassioned job that leaves little room for intellectual stimulation.
The endless routine stifles him and pushes him to a point of leaving it. Thereafter, the love of Werther’s life is taken by another man who happens to be his best friend. He must frequently battle his burning love for Charlotte (the childhood love) and suppress it just so that he can continue with the uncomfortable friendship between himself and Charlotte’s husband (Goethe, 1774). He was therefore tortured by unsatisfied passions and unfulfilled demands. It is no wonder he is pushed to the limit and decides to commit suicide.
These experiences are highly specific; they focus on predicaments of an individual versus impositions set forward by society. Although Werther tried to conform to societal expectations, he reached his breaking point and decided to end it. This signified a triumph of the personal over the collective. Consequently, one can assert that these personal experiences bring out the importance of private concerns. Had Werther fulfilled his personal needs then maybe he would not have resulted to such an excessive release.
The theme of individualism therefore emerges through these experiences. Similarly, in the poem ‘the road not taken’ one can identify with the experiences of the poet. He is at crossroads and has a choice to use either of two pathways. He has a difficult time deciding which path will be most suitable. In other words, it is easy to put oneself in the shoes of the poet because all human beings are faced with decisions from time to time.
Furthermore, no one really knows what lies ahead prior to making these decisions because all choices represent a merger between free will and fate. This difficult predicament is what makes readers identify with the poem. Through that experience, one can say that the emerging theme is ‘the difficulty of life’s choices’. Lastly, in the novel Kite runner, some of the characters go through very difficult experiences. For example, in Baba’s household, the servant Ali comes from an ethnic minority (Hazara).
Because of this, he is treated less equally; he must sleep on the floor and stay separated from the rest of the family. The children of the narrative such as Sohrab and his grandmother are constantly mistreated by the Taliban; one can identify with the torturing that these individuals went through.
Members of the ethnic minority of the Hazara are also deeply targeted by the said groups and are deemed unworthy of existence (Hosseini, 2003). This was the reason why Hassan was murdered ruthlessly by the Taliban; the deeply disturbing experiences of members of the Hazara cause one to realize that there is some form of discrimination in the land. Therefore discrimination itself can be seen as a theme in the book.
All three pieces of literature utilize the dramatic experiences of their main characters in order to make a statement about life. The horrors of the Taliban and class division in Kite runner make important statements about discrimination.
The difficulty of making decisions by the said individual makes a statement about life choices in the Road not taken and the personal experiences of young Werther endorse private concerns hence individualism. These are all messages that are tied to the experiences of the main characters and if these experiences were not so captivating, deep or disturbing then the audience may not have related to the themes of the pieces.
The protagonists and characters in each of the three literature works also use conversations and their personal reflections or thoughts to bring out the author’s messages or theme. In this regard, the things said are reflective of the main ideas being propagated by all three authors. In ‘Sorrows of young Werther’, the protagonists often reflects upon his life. He talks about his sentiments on true art. He asserts that real art should be experienced and should be an expression of one’s inner thoughts (Goethe, 1774).
Therefore, these declarations proliferate some of the sentiments that were being propagated by the author. He was trying to defy common notions of classicism and the status quo. The theme of romanticism therefore comes out of the assertions made by Werther because he has very strong opinions about what a good piece of art is and it is through his words that we get to these inclinations.
In the ‘Kite runner’ some of the assertions made by Amir testify to the theme of redemption. Amir first asserts that the past has a way of coming back and haunting one who was trying to bury it. As Amir narrates the story of childhood and the rape of his friend, he keeps talks about his sin and how he betrayed Hassan. As one continues on into the story, one can see how difficult this issue was for Amir and the misconceptions he had about doing wrong.
For example, when the former bully now turned Taliban Assef captures Amir and tortures him, Amir says that he feels like he got what he truly deserved. However, later on he reflects on this and realizes that punishment is not a way of redeeming him; he realizes that the best way to move beyond his wrongs in the past is by changing the way he lived his life and immediately according Sohrab (his childhood friend’s son) an equal chance at success.
In a letter written by Rahim Kahn to Amir, Khan says that the route to forgiveness is first forgiving oneself, other people will only be forgiven once an individual starts with the latter. Amir is yet to learn these lessons fully because when Sohrab falls ill, he asks God not to let the blood of this individual lie in his hands (Hosseini, 2003). He’s still longing for self preservation instead of being concerned about the life of his nephew.
Eventually, it becomes clear that he has completely forgiven himself at the end of the novel. All these sentiments and dialogues that Amir has or people have with Amir illustrate the author’s perceptions on atonement and sin. Therefore through the words of the protagonist and his thoughts, it is possible to state that forgiveness and sin is an important message in the book and this qualifies it to be a theme. In the poem the ‘Road not taken’ the protagonist’s assertions also testify to another theme in the story.
For instance in one of the passages he asserts that “the passing there, had worn them really the same” (Frost, 1916, 10) then he continues to say that no steps had trodden on the roads. To this end, readers can deduce that none of the roads were really less travelled. However, at the end of the poem, the writer introduces a few tricky lines to confuse readers when he talks about taking the road less travelled and it making all the difference.
When one puts his assertions in retrospect, one can see that the author was trying to illustrate how he will relieve this moment to other people in the future. It will be marred with dishonesty and exaggeration because the said individual will want to make it appear as though he made the brave choice yet this was not so. When the author asserts that he shall be narrating with a sigh then he is simply acknowledging that he will make another account of this moment in his life; one that is less precise and true (Frost, 1916).
It can be deduced through these words that the speaker will be hypocritical. Therefore, one can say that another theme in the poem ‘the road not taken’ is hypocrisy. Some human beings tend to exonerate themselves in order to appear better than they truly are as is the case with the protagonist. However, this message can only be fully understood upon looking at all the words the poet says and then putting them in perspective.
Therefore, all three pieces of literature state their author’s opinions on important matters of life through the words of their characters. The author’s views on redemption in Kite runner are reflected by Amir’s words and thoughts. We learn about his turning point through his words and even about his values.
The poem the road not taken also shows how the author despises hypocrisy through the words of the narrator who states that he shall relieve that moment with a sigh meaning his conscious will disturb him. In kite runner, the author shows how useful forgiveness is when he says how disturbed he is by the problems and betrayal of his childhood (Hosseini, 2003). All these lessons would not have come out if it they were not explicitly stated by the characters of the pieces.
Some of the characters in the story are also instrumental in perpetuating the theme of the story. The main characters in all pieces of literature learn (or fail to learn) some lessons along the way and these are important in reflecting theme in these narratives. In the story ‘Sorrows of Young Werther’ the protagonist appears to be seeking happiness. He is very moody and erratic. He leaves his job as a court official because it does not offer him the happiness that he so desires.
Thereafter, he falls for Lotte and for some time appears as though he will finally attain happiness. However, after realizing that he cannot be with her, he starts harboring suicidal thoughts (Goethe, 1774). There are several situations that keep getting the protagonist down such as the time when he gets kicked out of a party and when he realizes that his parent moved out of his childhood town. To this end, Werther is constantly moody and even gets down the people around him because of this moodiness.
For example, when interacting with his friend Wilheim, the latter individual often manages to rub off his misery to Wilheim. Later on, it is quite surprising that this main character actually despises moody people or people who are consistently unhappy because he possesses the same qualities (Goethe, 1774). For instance, when he comments about Albert’s bad moods, he asserts that he hates people who are that erratic and that to him this is the worst sin of all.
He also criticizes Herr Schmidt concerning the same yet the latter individual was nothing near what the protagonist was. In other words, Werther did not realize that the quality he hated most in people was the one that he possessed. Most of the bitterness he held against other people was really a reflection of the hatred he held against himself. Werther was unable to learn this very important lesson; that the things he hated the most were actually qualities he possessed.
One can therefore say that the lesson to be picked from this character is the importance of self love. Werther does not love himself and it is for this very reason why he finds it excessively difficult to love others. In the road not taken, the speaker learns about the inevitability of fate and importance of truth. For instance, the protagonist is standing in front of the two roads and needs to make a decision. He has very little information about these two paths and has even less information to differentiate these roads.
However, he cannot remain in the woods for too long so he needs to make a decision. The narrator in the poem must therefore make this leap even though there may be dire consequences for choosing one road over the other (Frost, 1916). The narrator therefore stresses the importance of those moments when a person needs to come to a decision point even when one is not very sure about oneself. This lesson is therefore a theme in the poem and it can be summarized as ‘taking hold of moments as they present themselves’.
Lastly in the novel Kite runner, Amir soon comes to realize that there is always a price to pay for loyalty. He sees this after he is told about the story of Hassan’s death. Hassan was killed after he tried defending Baba’s house. In essence, he was so loyal to Baba that he was able to confront a very infamous group and risked his life. In the process of confronting the Taliban, Hassan lost his life. Amir was deeply moved by Hassan’s sense of loyalty to the point of even causing him to come back to Afghanistan for the sake of Hassan’s child.
Amir also learnt about loyalty through their servant Ali. Ali was unable to reproduce all his life yet he had been called Hassan’s father for a long time. Because he did not want to disgrace the house of Baba by revealing the truth behind Hassan’s parentage, he kept this secret to the grave. The importance of loyalty between friends also comes out when Amir falsely accuses his colleague Hassan of stealing a watch.
Instead of defending himself, Hassan makes a false confession and pays the price for it by loosing respect from his real father Baba (Hosseini, 2003). Amir is filled with a lot of guilt over this immense loyalty displayed by Hassan so much so that it haunts his subsequent adult life and alters the plans that he had set out for himself later. The main character eventually learns the value of loyalty and pays back through restoring Sohrab’s life. The overriding theme here is loyalty.
In retrospect, although these three pieces of literature have various teachings, what makes them similar is that all the three themes of loyalty, self love and seizing the moment were discovered by the main characters with the exception of ‘Sorrows of Young Werther’. In the latter piece, the main character’s failure to learn this lesson may have been one of the reasons behind his demise. Nonetheless, the audience can still learn this lesson for him.
All three authors also utilized actions and events in the pieces in order to bring out or express their feelings on pertinent issues. For example in Sorrows of Young Werther the concept of class has been addressed through occurrences in the book. Initially, Werther thinks of himself as a person of privilege in his hometown. However, when he gets out of this setting and interacts with people of high society through Lotte, he is unable to fit in with them. Eventually, he rushes to Walheim just so that he can escape these class differences.
The author therefore makes a statement on class difference and the follies of privilege through these three events. Similarly, the poet of the road not taken uses the very act of taking a road to demonstrate the inevitability of taking any path (Frost, 1916).
Lastly, the novel Kite runner uses events in the novel such as the kite running competition to illustrate the theme of violence inherent in the people of Afghanistan even during child’s play, the attack of Afghanistan by the Soviet and subsequent movement of the family to another nation in order to propagate the theme of nationality in the novel. The protagonist family was forced out of their homeland but still stayed loyal to their culture.
The three authors express their opinions and sentiments i.e. theme through actions and occurrences in the pieces albeit in different ways. They also do this through lessons learnt by the main characters as the experiences gone through by people in the literature pieces as well as the words and reflections of the main characters.
Hosseini, K. (2003). The Kite Runner. NY: Riverhead books.
Goethe, W. (1774). The sorrows of young werther. Leipzig: Weygandsche Buchhandlung.
Robert, F. (1916). Mountain Interval: The road not taken. NY:Henry Holt and Company.