On online forums, I often see the argument that not every story needs a theme. This is the flip side version of the question of when a story needs a theme. I felt that those arguing that some stories don't need a theme often fail to point out when exactly a story needs or doesn't need to have a central theme, thematic statement, or moral.
When I posted the above question on Quora, I got the following answers (I've summarized the answers):
- Choose-your-own-ending stories written in second-person narration don't need to have a central theme.
- Mysteries, thrillers, and suspense stories that focus on mysteries and plot devices don't have to have a central theme (Quora's AI bot gave me this answer).
- When the writer does not want to give his/her story a theme. Is this a legitimate answer to my question? How is this different from saying that a writer doesn't need to give his story a theme when he doesn't care about the quality of his story? In other words, how is this different from saying that a story doesn't need to have a theme when it doesn't need to be a good story? I felt that this answer dodged my question.
- When the theme of a story is immoral, then the story would have been better if it had no theme at all.
- If the theme is too obvious, then it would be better to write the same story without any theme than with this kind of theme. When is a story's theme so obvious that the story would be better off not having any theme whatsoever than having this particular theme?
In addition to the above points I've seen the following arguments for when a story would be better off without a central theme:
- When a story is preachy. But what makes a story preachy?
- A story should be open-ended and its central theme should be a question rather than a statement that forces the reader to accept the writer's point of view. Readers should be allowed to think for themselves.
I would like to know if you agree or disagree with the above points. I've not seen any surveys about whether or not most readers would prefer to read a story without a theme than to read a story whose theme they strongly disagree with. Does such a survey exist? Do you think the number of people who would prefer no theme to a theme they disagree with outnumber the people who prefer there be any kind of theme even a disagreeable one than there being no theme at all? And would writers be better off financially if they gave all their stories themes even if they believed that many readers would disagree with their themes? Would writers be happier and more fulfilled if they just gave all their stories a clearly laid out theme even if they feel uncomfortable giving certain stories a definitive conclusion?
Would you prefer a story to have a theme you disagree with than have no theme at all? For example, I detest the theme of the Legend of Korra series, but if you asked me if I would prefer it to have no theme, I would give you an emphatic "no".
I also hate the theme of the Arcane animated series. But these are 2 of my favorite animated series. I cannot imagine enjoying them without these themes that I hate so much. I suspect that these shows would be largely incomprehensible without their central themes, but I could be wrong. And I dislike incomprehensible stories more than I dislike right-wing stories.
I hate the Legend of Korra's theme because it says that the political status quo, whatever that may be for any given nation, is the best possible socio-economic system for a given nation because some sort of "balance" must be maintained. In my opinion, the so-called "balance" can best be described as a balance of military power between all warring kingdoms and nations i.e. no nation should have the power to conquer another nation. I think the Legend of Korra's theme could have been far better executed, but even if it were better executed, I would still hate the theme because of my left-leaning political orientation. I found its theme morally reprehensible. The theme also makes no sense, but I would still prefer a better-executed theme I disagree with than no theme at all.
And I hate Arcane's theme because I think the show hates poor people and is essentially saying that the only reason why the poor would want to overthrow the rich is out of jealousy and spite and not out of any legitimate economic grievance or out of any kind of economic necessity. But I still found the show very entertaining even though I found its theme morally questionable. I also love the 300 movie even though I wholeheartedly agree with a YouTuber called Big Joel that that movie is basically well-disguised Nazi propaganda.
I think it would make more sense for authors whose stories readers describe as propaganda or as immoral or preachy to write better-executed themes than to give up on the idea of giving their stories any theme whatsoever. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment.