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Theme

'Theme' is the meaning or message of a literary work. Unlike other forms of writing, poetry, stories and plays never state their themes outright. Instead the reader must pay close attention to language, mood, dialogue, character, plot and any other devices which the writer uses to convey the message. Practise your ability to decipher these messages by trying this quiz. Even if you have not read the text before, pay close attention to the brief passages given in the question and you will be able to decide which theme is conveyed.

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  1. 'MR. BIRLING: By the way, there's something I'd like to mention -- in strict confidence -- while we're by ourselves. I have an idea that your mother -- Lady Croft -- while she doesn't object to my girl -- feels you might have done better for yourself socially --
    GERALD, rather embarrassed, begins to murmur some dissent, but BIRLING checks him.
    MR. BIRLING: No, Gerald, that's all right. Don't blame her. She comes from an old country family -- landed people and so forth -- and so it's only natural. But what I wanted to say is -- there's a fair chance that I might find my way into the next Honours List. Just a knighthood, of course.'
    -- Which theme, or themes, are evident in this passage from J.B. Priestley's play, An Inspector Calls?
  2. "'Well, I ain't giving you no trouble. Think I don't like to talk to somebody ever' once in a while? Think I like to stick in that house alla time?'" -- Which theme, or themes, from John Steinbeck's novel, Of Mice and Men, are reinforced by Curley's wife's complaint?
  3. 'SHEILA: So nothing really happened. So there's nothing to be sorry for, nothing to learn. We can all go on behaving just as we did.
    MRS. BIRLING: Well, why shouldn't we?
    SHEILA: I tell you -- whoever that Inspector was, it was anything but a joke. You knew it then. You began to learn something. And now you've stopped. You're ready to go on in the same old way.'
    -- Which theme, or themes, are evident in this dialogue between mother and daughter from J.B. Priestley's play, An Inspector Calls?
    Mrs. Birling is happy to go back to her 'same old way', while her daughter is willing to change
  4. '"Why's he sittin' with the coloured folks?"
    "Always does. He likes 'em better'n he likes us, I reckon. Lives by himself way down near the county line. He's got a coloured woman and all sorts of mixed chillun. Show you some of 'em if we see 'em."
    "He doesn't look like trash," said Dill.
    "He's not, he owns all one side of the river bank down there, and he's from a real old family to boot."'
    -- Which theme, or themes, from Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, are evident in this dialogue between Jem and Dill?
    The class prejudice is evident in the reference to 'trash' and 'a real old family'
  5. '"Antonio, I am married to a wife, which is as dear to me as life itself; but life itself, my wife, and all the world, are not with me esteem'd above thy life: I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all, here to this devil, to deliver you."' -- Which theme, or themes, from William Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice, is evident in Bassanio's speech?
  6. 'Lennie said, "Tell about that place, George."
    "I jus' tol' you, jus' las' night."
    "Go on -- tell again, George."
    "Well, it's ten acres," said George. "got a little win'mill. Got a little shack on it, an' a chicken run. Got a kitchen, orchard, cherries, apples, peaches, 'cots, nuts, got a few berries. They's a place for alfalfa and plenty water to flood it. They's a pig pen---"
    "An' rabbits, George."'
    -- Which theme, or themes, from John Steinbeck's novel, Of Mice and Men, are reinforced by this dialogue between Lennie and George?
  7. If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.


    -- Which theme, or themes, are evident in these lines from Wilfred Owen's poem, 'Dulce et Decorum Est'?
  8. Glory be to God for dappled things –
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

    -- Which theme is NOT evident in these lines from Gerard Manley Hopkin's poem, 'Pied Beauty'
  9. '"I wanted you to see something about her -- I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what."' -- Which theme, or themes, from Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, are evident in Atticus's speech?
    Much of the violence in the novel comes from cowardice, rather than courage
  10. '"But mercy is above this sceptred sway, it is enthroned in the hearts of kings, it is an attribute to God himself, and earthly power doth then show likest God's, when mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, though justice be thy plea, consider this -- that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation."' -- Which theme, or themes, from William Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice, are evident in Portia's speech?
    Is justice found in following the letter of the law, or does mercy produce true justice?

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