Difference Between Theme and Main Idea

Main Difference – Theme vs. Main Idea

Theme and main idea are important components of any story. The main difference between theme and main idea is, theme is a lesson or a moral whereas the main idea tells us what the story is about.

What is Theme

Theme is the central message or perception that the writer wants to convey to the readers. The theme in fiction is not explicit or literal; it’s an inference the author makes. In other words, a theme is not stated in a book, it is only after reading and understanding the story that the reader can arrive at the theme. A theme can often teach a lesson by giving a moral. Theme presented by the author can be brought out of the text and applied to other texts as well. Therefore, the theme can be universal. Theme can be expressed in one sentence, sometimes just one word is suffice to describe the theme.

Theme can be divided into two categories; thematic concept and thematic statement. Thematic concept refers to what the reader thinks the story about and the thematic concept refers to what that particular work states about the subject.

Keep in mind that a text can have multiple themes as well. However, in most cases, there is a central recurring idea in the book that is taken as the central theme.


J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter – love, good versus evil

Shakespeare’s Othello – jealousy

F Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby – society and class, love

Austen’s Sense and Sensibility – the danger of excessive sensibility. 

Difference Between Theme and Main Idea

Theme: It’s easy to despise what you cannot have.

What is Main Idea

The main idea is the overall idea of the story. It tells us what or who the story is about. Main idea can be derived from the plot and the characters, it describes the content and the plot details. Identifying the main idea of a text is similar to identifying the subject in a passage. It provides specific details about the text. This is one of the main differences between theme and main idea; unlike the theme, the main idea of a text cannot be applied to another text, as it contains specific information.

For example imagine that you are writing an essay about the benefits of exercise, and then your main idea would be ‘the various ways in which exercises help your body.’ In an essay, the main idea is generally expressed through the thesis statement.

If you take the story of the rabbit and the tortoise, for example, the main idea of the story would be something like this. “ a hare challenged a tortoise for a race. The tortoise won the race because he kept going and did not give up.”Main Difference - Theme vs Main Idea

Difference Between Theme and Main Idea


Theme is the central message of the story; it is often a lesson or a moral.

Main idea is what the story is about.


Theme is universal and can be applied to everyday life as well.

Main idea is unique as it contains specific information.


Theme is not directly stated in the text; it is inferred by readers.

Main idea can or cannot be seen directly in the text.


Theme can teach a lesson or a moral.

Main idea helps to build the theme.Difference Between Theme and Main Idea-info

Image Courtesy:

“Fox & Grapes” by John Rae (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

“The Tortoise and the Hare – Project Gutenberg etext 19993”. (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons 

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