Thematic Significance Plotline

The Thematic Significance Plotline is the deliberate step-by-step development of the underlying meaning of the overall project. Character Emotional Development creates fascination. Dramatic Action provides excitement. The Thematic Significance portrays the overall story meaning. When the dramatic action changes the character at depth over time, the story becomes thematically significance.

Of three threads that make up plot, Thematic Significance is generally the least developed of the three. All lasting stories boast of thematic significance on a multitude of levels, making theme worth exploring. Plot the Thematic Significance of each scene in much the same way as you would the other two plot threads.

There are two types of Thematic Siginificance plotlines, one that comes from the Character Emotional Development plotline and one that comes from the Dramatic Action plotline. Using, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, both types will be exlored below.

Thematic Significance from Dramatic Action

First, ask yourself what you mean to say through the telling of your novel, screenplay, short story, or memoir. Form the message you want your readers to be left with at the end of the story into a statement. It is best to let the piece itself tell you what the ultimate message is, which means you may not know the thematic significance statement for your project until the third or fourth draft, but every writer has his or her own truth to tell. F. Scott Fitzgerald continually fought for and ultimately lost material success. That, combined with his preoccupation with the life of the wealthy, directly influenced the theme of The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby, as with all classic stories, deals with universal themes. Along with Nick's personal Thematic Significance (below), there is also an overall meaning or Thematic Significance for the entire story. A Thematic Significance statement for The Great Gatsby as a whole could be:

Ambition for money and another man's wife leads to destruction.

Keep in mind that the theme your story proves is not necessarily the truth for all time. In another story, just the opposite may be proven true.

Next, to assist the reader’s grasp of the story’s deeper meaning, break down the theme into its smallest parts. Begin the story by introducing as many different aspects of each of these parts as possible.

In the first chapter of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald, keeping in mind his theme, shows and describes different types of wealth. He also explores what defines self, and he points out different sorts of physical, mental, and emotional destruction.

Fitzgerald accomplishes this in several ways. He uses the most obvious and direct methods for building Thematic Significance through the advancement of the other two plotline themselves—Dramatic Action and Character Emotional Development—and through dialog and narrative.

The following dialog in Chapter One reveals yet another piece of the theme and, at the same time, shows more of Daisy’s character emotional development.

Daisy tells Nick what she said when her little girl was born: ”All right,’ I said. ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

This line creates morbid curiosity and urges the reader to keep reading. Thematically, it shows how Daisy’s life of wealth is corrupting her image of herself and that of her baby girl.

Other techniques of deepening thematic significance are more subtle and often do not even penetrate the reader’s consciousness. Nevertheless, the use of mood, setting, and metaphor carry as much power as the other more obvious methods of supplying clues.

Fitzgerald describes Daisy’s house as “a cheerful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens…”

This setting dramatically demonstrates to the reader what sort of wealth is being dealt with in this story. To describe the house as being a Georgian Colonial mansion, Fitzgerald evokes established wealth. He goes on to deepen that to purity with the use of the color white. For a whisper of destruction, he adds the color of fire. These sorts of details are not random accidents. They are carefully plotted out to convey the deepest thematic significance.


  1. Write down a Thematic Significance statement that encompasses the meaning of the overall story. In other words, what do all of the scenes and dramatic action together add up to mean in the end?
  2. Infuse your story with this theme through details and comparisons, metaphor and simile.

When a story embodies universal themes for the characters themselves and through all of the elements and details of the story itself, a story becomes lasting.

Thematic Significance from Character Emotional Development

In Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Nick serves as the narrator. Of all the characters in the story, Nick is the only one who is changed by the Dramatic Action, thus making Nick also the protagonist. If other characters are change by the Dramatic Action in your story, the protagonist is determined as a matter of degree and siginificance of change.

Some might point to Gatsby as the protagonist, alive in the beginning and dead in the end. What counts with Thematic Significance is not the change from alive to dead, but how the dramatic action creates a long-term emotional change in the protagonist.

Nick sets his own Thematic Significance in Chapter Three when he states that he is one of the few honest people he has known. Since he is the narrator, the reader is curious to know if he is reliable, or not. Does Nick have a clear sense of himself from his time in the war as he thinks? Or, does he have more to learn about himself before he can accurately judge himself? In the end, Nick understands he has only begun to live up to his initial assessment of himself as stated in the beginning.

A Thematic Significance statement for Nick's character plotline could be:

Only with maturity and assuming personal and moral responsibility are we able to accuratly judge ourselves.


  1. Who is the protagonist of your story?
  2. Write down a Thematic Significance statement that encompasses the emotional transformation your protagonist undergoes from the beginning to the end of the story.
  3. Infuse your story with the theme through details and comparisons, metaphor and simile.

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