Finding a Theme

Writing Tutorial

Finding a Theme


A common problem I find among middle school students and perhaps even high school students is that they cannot develop a theme after reading a short story or even watching a short film. However, this can easily be remedied.

Sample Problem

Question source

(This following paragraph is taken from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl”)
In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money: from her father she would certainly get blows, and at home it was cold too, for above her she had only the roof, through which the wind whistled, even though the largest cracks were stopped up with straw and rags.

Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. “Rischt!” how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but–the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.
She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of apple and dried plums. And what was still more capital to behold was, the goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; when–the match went out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind. She lighted another match. Now there she was sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree: it was still larger, and more decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door in the rich merchant’s house.


Could you find a theme after reading the story?

As a reminder, Theme is the lesson of the story, a point that the author wants the reader to realize (ex: honesty is the best policy, hard work pays off in the end)

Here are some steps to help you:

1. What is the problem/conflict in the story?

—– The Little match girl struggles to keep warm against the elements (external conflict) and fears punishment if she returns home without money (internal conflict)

2. How is the problem solved?/ What realization does the character/s discover that resolves the problem/conflict?

—– The Little Match girl decides to stay out and use a match to warm herself

3. What’s the connection of problem and solution? What lesson can be learned?

—– In the story we learn that in dire circumstances, we must choose the lesser of two evils. This is shown when the Little Match girl must choose between going home to face punishment and poor living conditions to using up what little potential income she may have from selling the matches. Another theme that arose was that in the midst of great need, even the smallest of pleasures can seem to lessen the burden of the situation immensely. When the Little Match girl lights the first match, she goes into this hypnotic state where she sees a large iron stove and this causes her continue to use up her matches out of desperation to fill her need.The duration of the flame is small and short lived but ignites a need in the Little Match girl that draws her continue in her search for comfort.

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