Matthew Walden

Theme: Properly speaking, the theme of a work is not its subject but rather its central idea, which may be stated directly or indirectly.

Example: In Stephen Collis’s book-length poem Mine, the subject is the  life of coal miners in the mid-1800’s to the early 1900’s.  But I believe that there are several other possible themes to this poem, in particular I think racism plays a role as a central idea as well.  In two specific poems: “Time’s Blindshaft” and “Coal Queen” not only does Collis speak of the dangers of coal mining, but specifically racism.  On page 38: “No Chinaman is allowed to be in a responsible position such as attending a ventilation furnace etc. whether he can speak English or not”.  Also on page 41:”the Chinese who are blamed (68 of the 148 dead) known only by a number unclean criminal immoral opium users prostitutes”.  Such hatred can be seen towards the Chinese, it seems as though they’re viewed almost as enemies.  I believe Collis includes these words as a constant reminder that coal mining consisted not only of brutal labour and conditions but also discrimination against other races, especially the Chinese.  The focus of his poem is coal mining, but he wants the reader to learn or be reminded that different races such as the Chinese were treated fairly poor.  I think that Collis wants the reader to believe that the central idea is coal mining, being stated directly, but also wants the reader to realize that racism is being stated indirectly.

Works Cited

Collis, Stephen. Mine. Vancouver: New Star, 2001. Print.

“Theme.” Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin, 1999. Print.


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