What Are Some Recurring Themes in Literature?

The coming-of-age tale, the epic journey, the fall from grace and the revenge story are some of the many recurring themes in literature. Most scholars can name over 100 common themes throughout history and they remain easily recognizable.

Recurring themes in literature have often emerged in specific historical time periods. For instance, revenge stories were very popular during the Renaissance, especially in drama. Stories exploring social class were popular during the Victorian era. The force of destiny and the power of the gods were recurring themes in Greek tragedies and other early literature. The coming-of-age tale has become increasingly popular in modern times, from "Catcher in the Rye" to the Harry Potter series. Many stories involve an epic journey such as "Lord of the Rings" or even Huckleberry Finn. Some well-respected literature involves a fall from grace, such as Paradise Lost and nearly all of Shakespeare's tragedies.

Teachers may describe recurring themes in literature as "Man versus Nature," "Man versus Society" and "Man versus Self." These categories describe literary conflict, and they encompass a variety of common literary themes like war, disaster, marriage, family, death, personal growth and alienation. Though certain universal themes may come and go in popularity, most are still common today.