The moral of a story is its central theme or the message being represented by an author in subtext. These messages will usually tackle broad subjects of moral discourse, such as friendship, redemption, greed or humility. In this sense, the moral of a story is not necessarily a summation at the end of its final chapter, although some authors might choose to explicitly reprise their central themes in this way.
A useful method for identifying morals or themes in literature is to create a T-chart with two columns, one for summarizing the key events of a story and the other for picking out these events' underlying message.
It is not always possible to find a full sentence or quote in a story that neatly encapsulates a central theme. While characters' actions, observations and dialogue are often used to express the moral, sometimes its representation is far more subtle, recognizable only by virtue of it being universal. Ideas like coming of age, humans versus technology and conflict with society are all cross-culturally relevant.
Some examples of central themes in popular culture include the following:
- Responsibility in "The Lion King"
- Greed in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"
- Family in Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle"
- Appreciation in Mariah Carey's "Hero"
- Farewells in Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)"