Common themes and change

Common themes and change

Up the passage, throngs of little school children are heading off to school where they shall be taught to be; like others. It is the pattern of the continent and the world, where the conqueror defeats the masses not through brute force, but it is through the inculcation of the tenets of the conqueror into the minds that are to be subjugated to the levels where the conquered are pliant and pliable tools in the hands of the oppressor. Up the passage, throngs of little school children are heading off to school where they shall be taught to be; like others. It is the pattern of the continent and the world, where the conqueror defeats the masses not through brute force, but it is through the inculcation of the tenets of the conqueror into the minds that are to be subjugated to the levels where the conquered are pliant and pliable tools in the hands of the oppressor.

I think not that the children know why they go to school, and why they have to race the clock to get into the classrooms where they shall be conformed to a certain manner and pattern of living and dreaming, to patterns of existence that are considered as ‘civilised’ or educated. We hardly ever bother to ask what it is that our children’s minds are being fed by the school guard with their blackboards and chalk, their red pens and canes: it is a hardly questioned profession whose main battle cry is that, “teaching gives birth to all the other professions…” True that, but then, does teaching teach the self-taught? Do the teachers see that the world is transforming into the DIY era where the profession may lose relevance? I spent the first three years of school getting my lessons in classrooms under the trees, and back then, all seemed normal and it was a pride to carry the blackboard for the ‘madam’, cleaning the chalk-script off the board, and being the model student in khakis and grey-flannels. School lasted until lunch, after which we would run home or start a miniature battle of stones with boys from other villages

. It was not a hard knock kind of life where there are ten thousand worries as to how one shall make enough money for bling to please the girls, as is seen in the children of today (funny, I never thought I would grow up to be this old, that is, so old that I would utter the statement, “the children of today”). Their pressures are different from what we experienced in those days of half-day class and the rest of the day adventures in the ravines and the gorges, the streams and the rivers that we would fly to soon as we kicked our khaki shorts off. There was no social media back then and no five year-olds with boom boxes prowling the neighbourhoods. These are the dog eat dog days, and the teacher better change his or her lessons to suit the moment that renders all those nostalgic days of teaching a classroom under a tree in the 1980’s obsolete.

I grew up to be a writer that is familiar with the essence of the plot and the theme, the climax and the peroration. What I have grown to realise over the years is that themes do change from time to time, in fact, certain themes actually pass with the age they were birthed in and are thereafter forgotten until they resurface a thousand years later by a writer who bothered to search his old man’s trunk (chest) full of musty smelling old books. A lot of times, one meets the question: what is the theme in the story? Sadly, the answers to this question often refer to trends rather than themes. A trend is what is popular but it is not necessarily the theme of the story, kind of like just the currently loved colour on a portrait than the essence of the portrait itself.

The theme of the story is the meaning behind the portrait and it serves as the guide to the plot set out in the story. To achieve a certain colour (which we can compare to the plot), the artist mixes various colours from the palette, dabbing here and dipping in there, mixing reds and blues to get purples, yellows and greens to bright lime greens or Celtics. The final colour of the portrait is the theme which governs the mood of the picture, and it is actually that which draws the audience to the portrait in the first place.

Desolation, betrayal, loyalty, trust, and others are virtues and vices in the human condition and they lie there as the sources to the themes the writers of the world set out to explore in their writing. This is the style of writing where the themes are drawn from life and living and they are so selected to help the writer (and the audience) to try and find the roots of the kind of human behaviour that is subtle or prevalent in acts of human interaction and cooperation in society.

We are by nature curious beings drawn to entities we have a little understanding of, would like to get familiar with, and to understand something we did not know more deeply than we do at the present moment in time. The theme is set out in the story to answer the basic questions on an existing phenomenon that arouse the curiosity of whoever comes across them on a frequent basis. Questions such as: why are people jealous? Why do the rich seem proud? Why is so and so humble and so and so full of himself? Why is Africa not progressing? These questions in actual fact serve as the primer that ignites the writer’s mind to explore a given question/s more closely and to provide the possible answers.

The writer sets out to answer the questions on real issues of our daily life, and those issues contain in themselves the themes that the writings (of the literary kind) explore in different forms and manners.Of the first writings in the world (those found on the walls of the caves where the prehistoric peoples lived), one finds the common theme to be that of curiosity with the world around the writers/ painters of the time. These types of writers recorded their curiosity and their experiences as they unfolded around them.

By constantly observing the world and writing on that which they saw, they gained a deeper understanding of the world around, and the themes they discussed were explored to a point where they became the first guiding lights to the themes of the writings of the world. These include man’s basic fear of the unknown, first meetings, and nature in general behaviour and composition. What bothers man becomes a question to be pondered and mused over in those moments of repose, and what is questioned becomes the theme in the work is the question why such a theme resurfaces ignorant of time and age and epoch and era.

These types of themes are drawn from everyday life experiences, human emotion, human volition, decision, indecision, and such other characters and behaviours. The truly timeless classics of the world explored those qualities that are basic to life and not the super themes the modern writers of the day pursue in the name of trend and fashion. The truth of the matter is that there will always be ablutions and all of us shall have to go there at some point in the day, for going the toilet is as sure as going to the grave, and is therefore a pertinent issue to explore as a theme. The deviation from the truly meaningful themes in current writing is largely due to shifts in patterns of thought and the emergence of the self-delusion that one has grown as a writer and can therefore fashion one’s own themes.

There is no way one as a writer can fashion their theme due to the simple fact that themes are always there for one to pick and choose which one to explore or to follow. Those writers whose stories end up as bestsellers often have works that explore lasting themes that are not affected by the passing of time and age or fashion, and an example can be made of the human vice of greed. There will always be greed in human society, and this means that it would be a good theme to explore in the writing of the work to establish ways to deal with it. Choosing a theme that is particular to a given human condition limits the reading of work because they are relevant only to a limited audience. This means, in short, that a work that explores a theme that is common to the larger part of the human society actually has more chances of making it big in the reading fraternity.

The temptation is often to take the road less travelled and to look for peculiar themes, but this does not help the writer anyhow because people are more interested in what is familiar to them than what is strange. The writer is compelled to forget the audience for a while and to focus on what may be problematic for the writer as a researcher,  which helps one in getting some of the core details to such a story that may prove to be travail.

It is just not worth it to go through extensive research only to come up with a tepid tale. In a world full of nonsense in terms of writing, it would serve the writer in good stead to always go out in search of relevant themes instead of being tempted by what is trending due to the simple fact that trends and fashions are writing mayflies, that is, they only come for a while but soon fizzle out when new ones come. Pursuing short-term themes often means that the work written shall last only as long as the particular theme is relevant after which it loses its relevance and is thus rendered useless. When Shakespeare penned his Macbeth, jealousy and hunger for power were the main sails of the story and they sustained the play to the present day due to the fact that they are common traits of the human being. Jealousy and hunger for power shall never change their quality because it is a certain era, they stay the same throughout the entire length of human time on earth, and that is, they will always be there for as long as the human race is resident here.

The pursuit of the theme that never ages or will always be present in human society stands a better chance of delivering a work that will be relevant, useful and meaningful to any reader that picks it off the shelf to rest after the weariness of the rush in the world or to gain insights into some issue peculiar to the human condition and human living in the ever-changing world. That the writers of past eras wrote works that still carry meaning until the present day is largely due to the fact they focused on themes that are relevant in the everyday lives of the ordinary people of the world.It is a fact that there are changes in the way that people behave under different circumstances, and it means that one should learn to adapt to the new changes as they come. It means that one as a writer should always move with the trends as they occur but to always be aware of the true essence of the core themes that clarify human understanding in terms of knowledge gained with regard to a given matter.

There may seem to be obvious changes on the surface, but the truth of the matter is that the core stays the same, that is, jealousy stays as it is despite the plastic surgery people may try to apply in the form of justification. Hard as one may try to defend jealousy, it would be quite hard to justify it except if one attempts to define and express it in a story where it can be given a human face and character. Themes are there to guide the story, and they are there to help readers read/find a part of themselves as is seen in the content of the story. There are characters whose lives match those of the readers who get to pick the book and read of it.

This is not an accident, but is actually the writer writing on what he or she has actually seen that is common to society. We can write from outside the box, but the wise writer knows the true essence of doing something they know, that they have experience in and understand its inner workings. This enables one to actually express the real life of the moments about issues that affect the people. The basic view that I carry when it comes to writing is that each and every story that one writes should carry meanings that are relevant to all the people that get to read them. After all, writing is about passing the message that help the world to progress, and asking questions that improve the human race’s understanding of self for the sake of being understood by others. It is only through the pursuit of relevant themes that the world shall become a better place for all to live in.

By: Tšepiso S Mothibi

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