Liberal Arts Blog —“Literary Themes” — Basics, Favorites, Tips

John Muresianu
3 min readMay 25, 2022


Liberal Arts Blog — Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Religion, and Culture Day

Today’s Topic: “Literary Themes” — Basics, Favorites, Tips

So, do you have a favorite literary theme? Love? Good versus evil? Coming of age? How about literary element? Plot, theme, character, tone? How about literary technique? Figurative language? irony? foreshadowing? Did you ever get useful practical tips with respect to how to develop your own skills in those regards? Did you ever take a “master class” that changed your life? These questions were prompted by stumbling upon a “Master Class” web page pitching a creative writing course by Margaret Atwood. Today a few notes and graphics taken from that page and random surfing that it inspired. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. Archetypes (plots): “overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, rebirth.” (fourth link below)

2. Themes: “good versus evil, love (eg. forbidden, unrequited, family, friendship), redemption, courage and perseverance, coming of age, revenge.” (first link below)

3. “Six Basic Plots” — rags to riches, riches to rags, rise then fall, fall-rise-fall-again (Oedipus), rise-fall-rise,

EXAMPLES OF SEVEN ARCHETYPES — useful distinctions? reasonably complete list?

1. Overcoming the Monster: Perseus, Theseus, Beowolf, Star Wars, James Bond

2. Rags to Riches: Cinderella, Aladdin, David Copperfield

3. Quest: Iliad, Lord of the Rings, Divine Comedy

4. Voyage and Return: Odyssey, Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland

5. Comedy: the Wasps, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing

6. Tragedy: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Great Gatsby

7. Rebirth: Pride and Prejudice, Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast

THREE TIPS — conflict, motifs, symbols — better ideas? favorite examples?

1. “Put your characters in conflict with one another…..more opportunities for actions, choices, and conversations that enable them, and your readers, to tackle your theme head on.”

2. “Reinforce your theme with motifs. A motif is a recurring image or detail that highlights the central ideas in a story with repetition…..for example, Gatsby’s constant lavish parties….”

3. “Represent your theme with symbols…In The Great Gatsby, a green light symbolizes Gatsby’s dream for a better life with Daisy.”

Theme (narrative) — Wikipedia

Literary element — Wikipedia

The 7 Story Archetypes, and How They Can Dramatically Improve Your Marketing.


#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20

Here is a link to the last four years of posts organized by theme: (including the book on foreign policy)

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to words, language, literature, religion, culture. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to Words, Language, Literature (eg. quotes, poetry, vocabulary) that you have not yet shared.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.