We received e-mail this week from an author complaining that a prospective agent had complained that their work "had no theme." What's a theme, the author asked. When I went to school it was a term paper. Here's what we answered.
The theme of any work is usually a grain of universal truth that can be said in one line. The memoir, or action in a story, article, or essay is then used to illustrate the theme. Nobody can tell your personal truth but you. You will find as you write more and more that the same themes, often related to your deepest beliefs, will surface again and again in your work.