What Are Common Themes in Literature?

Some of the most common themes in literature are overcoming adversity, crime does not pay and love conquers all. These themes resonate so much with readers that they appear throughout time, both in classic and modern forms of literature.

Overcoming adversity is the cornerstone of many a literary plot. The main character must struggle against hardships, often out of their control, in order to triumph. Scarlett O'Hara struggling through failed relationships and economic hardship in "Gone With the Wind" is a classic example. The struggles of the impoverished orphan, Pip, in Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" is another example.

Crime does not pay is a common theme, as it strives to teach a moral lesson. Edgar Allen Poe writes of an unnamed man, the narrator, in "The Tell-Tale Heart" who becomes so obsessed with an old man's milky eye that he stalks him at night until he finally kills him. After the murder the narrator dismembers the body and hides the pieces under the floorboards. He might have gotten away with the crime, but he is driven mad believing he can still hear the sound of the old man's beating heart and confesses.

Love conquers all has been a theme in countless works of literature. A modern day version is "The Notebook," by Nicholas Sparks, in which a World War 2 veteran returns home only to find himself still in love with a woman he fell in love with 14 years earlier. The woman returns to him, and together they seek to rekindle their love.