Literary Themes

Themes in American Literature

  • Search for Identity

    How do I fit into society?

    Who am I?



    Human Independence

    Individual Rights

    Individual Desires

    Free will



    American ideal

    All people created equal


    The Journey

    Setting moves and changes

    Character grows up as he/she travels


    Rite of Passage

    Reaction to major life events

    Examples: Birth, Death, Marriage, Loss of a Loved One, Graduation



    Unexplored area

    Survival story



    Moral Struggle

    The characters struggle to understand or accept an idea


    Rebellion vs. Conformity

    The character fights against “fitting in” and accepting the old ways


    The American Dream or the American Nightmare

    America-land of opportunity and dreams

    The DREAM is fulfilled

    The DREAM becomes a nightmare


    Innocence or Innocence Lost

    Tragic event causes the character to lose his childhood innocence very quickly

    The tragic event continues to affect the character


    Coming of Age

    Character moves from childhood to teenage years

    Character may grow from a teen to an adult