23 June 2011


For the Love of Themes

As meme hostess Kavyen explains, Theme Thursday is "a wonderful opportunity to explore and understand different writing styles and descriptive approaches adopted by authors." I totally see where she's coming from.

Pick a theme--any theme: as long as it's universal enough, you'll find it in good literature across historical, geographical and cultural divides.

When I was in uni, I took a paper called "The Novel" in which I had to read Pride and Prejudice and Emma by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Howards End and A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad, and Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence. The course description in the catalogue had the professor's quip that "Women in Love" is not just one title among the bunch, but also a theme shared by all the books assigned for reading. I daresay that the title of the other "bookend" novel could serve a similar double purpose: these books are also all about different forms of "Pride and Prejudice".

See why theme is such a lovely thing to a reader?

This Week's Theme:
Male Person

[General Douglas] MacArthur had been literally driven out of the Philippines by the Japanese. Humiliated in his own lofty estimate of himself, mortified in the eyes of the world, he had been smarting under the blow dealt by the despised "yellow race." In the safety of Darwin [Australia] he had recovered enough of his old proud, pompous self, and with characteristic melodrama proclaimed: "I shall return!"

It took three long years, inestimable amounts of money, and hundreds of thousands of human lives, but Douglas MacArthur did return to the Philippines. On 20 October 1944 the General waded ashore at Palo on the island of Leyte and announced to the world, his sense of melodrama not a bit tarnished: "I have returned!"

Now MacArthur was to wreak a fearful vengeance on the enemy that humiliated him, except that the victim was to be the Philippines.

. . . That the destiny of one country could be so entwined with the life of one man was a circumstance that would forever intrigue other men . . .

It's a long excerpt, but there's a point to it.

I've just quoted from the Prologue to By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II by Alfonso J. Aluit. As you can see, Aluit ties the doom of the second most devastated city at the end of WWII to the pride of one of the greatest generals of WWII. It is an accusation as breathtaking as it is damning . . . and yet it is not without precedent.

Almost 3,000 years ago, someone else wrote of another great war in exactly the same terms . . .

Anger--sing, goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that accursed anger which brought the Greeks endless sufferings and sent the mighty souls of many warriors to Hades, leaving their bodies as carrion for the dogs and a feast for the birds; and Zeus' purpose was fulfilled . . .

Substitute "MacArthur" for "Achilles" and "Filipinos" for "Greeks," pick your own madlib for "Zeus," and you basically have Aluit's heartbreaking angle on what the events of 3 February to 3 March 1945 really meant to one man and to one country.

Theme is not just lovely; it is also the most powerful and heartrending literary element you will ever encounter.

Image Sources: a) By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II, 3 February - 3 March 1945 by Alfonso J. Aluit, b) The Iliad by Homer, translated by E.V. Rieu


Crystal - Princess of Pop Culture said...

What a sad story, worse even that it really happened. I'm always amazed at the lengths people will go to when seeking revenge.

Enbrethiliel said...


The more I learn about history, the less I am surprised at the lengths people will go to for anything. The story is especially heartbreaking for me because I'm familiar with many of the places that were bombed.

Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment, Crystal. =)

kavyen said...

I love how you explain the importance of a theme. I could have said it but it would have not made the same impact as the words you used. Thanks for making this theme meme sound so special.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thank you, Kavyen! I'm also really glad I found your meme, so thanks for hosting it. =)