Universal Interpretive Themes

What are they?

Universal interpretive themes apply to anyone, anywhere, at anytime and it will not include the character’s name. For example:

Cinderella could have a universal theme of “When a person lives a life of goodness, they will be rewarded with good events” it does not directly talk about Cindrella or the specifics of the story. It is universal!

A universal theme is one that is timeless, and that all people can relate to. e.g.

free will vs. fate

good vs. evil

Other universal themes include:

  • Love
  • Hate
  • Duty
  • Honour
  • Friendship

Revealing Meaning

The best way to reveal meaning is through the expression of an idea.
A meaningful idea provides opportunities for audiences to make their own connections to the meanings of the resource.

Interpretive themes

  • An interpretive theme helps interpreters affect the audience by providing focus for the audiences’ personal connections. It articulates a reason or reasons for caring about and for the resource.
  • Expressed in a single sentence, an interpretive theme statement forces the interpreter to think clearly about what he or she is saying.
  • An interpretive theme statement links a tangible resource to an intangible meaning. That’s what makes it interpretive.
  • It is the tool that cohesively develops the central relevant idea or ideas for the audience.
  • Information, links, and opportunities for connection must be related to the theme.
  • Interpretation must be personally relevant to the audience
  • Interpretive themes that are the most broadly relevant — and the most powerful — connect a tangible resource to a universal concept.

Universal Concept

  • A universal concept is an intangible meaning that has significance to almost everyone, but may not mean exactly the same thing to any two people. They are the ideas, values, challenges, relationships, needs, and emotions that speak fundamentally to the human condition.
  • Processes, systems, some ideas, challenges, relationships, and needs — other intangible meanings that are not universal concepts — can and should also be linked to the tangible resource.
  • Interpreters are most effective when audiences understand the meanings being explored and are able to relate them to their own lives — agreeing, disagreeing, adding to, or taking from them.
  • Interpreters use themes to cohesively develop ideas that say something important and powerful so they can provoke and assist personal connections — not merely transfer an idea to another person.


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