Themes in Literature

How to access H-B’s Databases

The main idea or underlying meaning of a literary work that may be stated directly or indirectly. It is the topic of the author’s MESSAGE.  See a great list of common literary themes.

Working with Databases:

Gale Literature (and specifically its “Literature Resources”) is an enormous database which contains short works such as poetry, essays a few short stories as well as literary criticism about all kinds of literature. Using advanced search, you can search for your theme and apply the filter “short story” to locate short stories about that theme.  You Tube Tutorial.

JSTOR – this database stores some full length literary works and a great deal of literary criticism.

“Subject” tags in a database:

Notice the filters at the right hand side of the following graphic. Specific terminology used for a theme is often used to tag resources in a database with a particular SUBJECT so that you can find lit crit or literature by searching with that terminology or clicking the subject term on the right side “Related Subject” menu.

Image showing the search results within Gale's Literature Resource Center. It displays a portrait of Jane Austen and facets in the sidebar to list the numbers of types of resources the database contains such as 962 essays of Literary Criticism, 261 Biographies, etc. It also provides a means to limit results further by applying subject, person or title filters.


Gale’s Literature Databases may list themes as “Topics” or “Subjects” and there are tools for searching by topic. Glean more from this You-Tube video.

Short Stories about a specific theme:

Great searching tips are here!


In print on H-B’s library shelves (interfiled in the Fiction section), we have many short story collections and anthologies that are thematically based.

    1. Be aware that there might be a variety of terms used for your theme, so try a number of them.  Example:  justice, crime, murder, punishment might all be helpful search terms. So be aware of “tags” used in databases and try that wording in your searchers.
    2. Enter a search term for your theme using the CAPITALIZED BOOLEAN OPERATOR AND to link your term to “fiction” Examples:  gender AND fiction         justice AND fiction
    3. After the catalog results show…Go to the top of the screen and click the PLUS SIGN.  This gives you a pop-up window to define your search more carefully, so examine all of the options.
    4. Search results in the library catalog also display “filters” on the left side of your screen help to narrow the results to specifically print vs. e-book results, for example.
    5. Trouble shooting: Too many results? This might work: Change the field of the search from KEYWORD to SUBJECT
    6. If you have a book on a theme that you love, look it up in the catalog.  Move into the details and click the “explore” tab to find tags.  Click the tag for your theme (note its wording for future use in search engines.)
    7. Remember to “clear all” on the advanced search settings or they might “stick” and unnecessarily limit future searches.