Writing about themes

Writing about themes could give your analysis of an extract a deeper response and show that you are thinking about the ideas the writer is presenting.

When you are analysing an extract, think about the following:

  • How does the language choice suggest a theme?
  • Are there any patterns in the language that give emphasis to a theme?
  • Do particular images suggest a theme?
  • How does the description of the setting suggest the theme?
  • Which events help to develop the themes in the extract?
  • How do the characters in the extract represent the theme?
  • Are there any language choices that suggest a clash, opposites or conflict of themes?

Example

The opening of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley describes a setting with very little action. The reader can detect some of the themes and ideas of the text from Huxley’s language choices.

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.

The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic gooseflesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Analysis

Aldous Huxley typing on a typewriter
Aldous Huxley was an English writer and philosopher

The author’s use of language in this extract presents the reader with some important themes:

  • The workers have "corpse-coloured" rubber gloves; this disturbing use of alliteration gives these figures a gruesome death-like appearance.
  • The word "hatchery" usually has connotations of life beginning, but within the context of this extract the word seems sinister.
  • The summer is "beyond the panes", which creates a sense of the warm symbol of nature existing outside this place, inside is only "wintriness."
  • The metaphor "the light was frozen, dead, a ghost" emphasises the lifelessness of the place. This effect is reinforced by the use of three blunt words to create the image; light is usually connected to life but here these words “…frozen, dead, a ghost…” link light to death.
  • The light is personified as "hungrily seeking", as if the natural light is in conflict with this man-made place.
  • The adjectives used through the extract: “…grey...cold…harsh…thin...pallid…pale...yellow…” create a negative, lifeless mood.
  • The only colour is connected to the man-made object of the microscope, through the use of the simile “…lying along the polished tubes like butter.” Even here the life is "borrowed" from the microscope; the verb "lying" suggesting something lacking in energy and life.

These language choices combine to suggest two themes:

  • life and death
  • man versus nature

Even from this short extract it’s clear that the scientific setting is important. Those who work in the centre are almost lifeless.

The way the light seems to be fighting against the sterile laboratory suggests there is a tension between man and nature.

Colour and light are important images in this extract. They can be used to support the theme of life and death. Light is usually a sign of life, but here it is negative.

Move on to Test
next