Objects Can Help Identify Theme

The theme for any novel is the foundation of the story. It ties all aspects of the novel into a “knot of meaning.” It gives the story a “big picture” and reflects how the story relates to the world at large. Yet, it is perhaps the hardest craft element to pin down. Sloan uses narrative to drop hints about the theme. But by using objects, she is able to make the theme visible in a concrete way that the reader can readily understand

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg SloanIn the young adult novel, I’ll Be There, Holly Goldberg Sloan purposely introduces objects to illuminate the theme of the story: all of humanity is connected in many small ways.

Early on, Sloan uses Riddle’s (protagonist’s brother) thoughts to hint at the story’s theme. “Turning pieces. Even if the pieces are broken. I put them back together” (44). Having introduced this seed about broken pieces and their reconnection, she then introduces a concrete object. Sam brings home weathered river sticks and glues them into the shape of a heart. The heart becomes a concrete image that helps the reader understand the theme: people are connected in many little ways.

Sloan also uses a black ribbon dress that Emily (protagonist) buys at a flea market. “She wanted the dress because it was made from so many pieces. Like the heart that Sam had made for her out of the small sticks (311). Again, this author chooses to employ an object to bring through the same theme in I’ll Be There. The repetition helps the reader clearly understand Sloan’s theme. Just as the river sticks and ribbons are connected to create something new, people are connected in many tiny ways also to create a new humanity.

Writers struggle with theme. If they make it too obvious, the story becomes didactic. If they make it too ambiguous, the theme becomes lost. By employing objects in I’ll Be There Sloan has demonstrated an excellent way to clearly illuminate the theme of this story without making it complicated or complex.

What is a method you use to help the reader understand the theme of your story? Is there an object you might employ to clearly define your theme?

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