What is a Topic?


It is sometimes difficult to understand the difference between the terms ‘motif’, ‘topic’ and ‘theme’. These terms are closely linked to each other, which is partly what causes the confusion, and, to make matters worse, they are often used differently by different teachers. So these pages are intended to offer some simple definitions of the three terms to make sure that you use them correctly when writing your World Lit essays. You should start with the one on motifs, then move on to topics before finishing up with themes.



What is a topic?

This is the confusing one because we often use the term THEME when actually we really want to be talking about is a TOPIC. We have already seen that motifs can be used to suggest or symbolise bigger ideas. Essentially those bigger ideas are what we call a topic. If you had to sum up in one or two words what a text is ‘about’ or what the main issues it is dealing with are then those would be the topics of the text


What can be a topic?

Topics are the big ideas that a text is about. Often these can be expressed very simply in just one or two words. Because of this, they are inevitably very high level and general and don’t go into very much detail. It is this lack of detail that is important because this is what distinguishes a TOPIC from a THEME: THEME’S have more detail.


Some examples?

Examples of topics are easy to come up with – they are the things that we would normally call themes. For example:


The role of women

The constructed nature of social roles

Appearance vs. reality



Social control




You should easily be able to add to this list based on discussions we have had in class.