Maybe a teacher once explained to you why literature has things called “themes” that must be studied, but mine never did.
It was strange to me that as the years went by I heard our books described in words that were more and more nebulous until they no longer seemed to point to anything specific that happened in the story. It was even stranger that I had to have an opinion on which vague concept applied best.
To me, Hatchet was the thrilling ordeal of a boy stranded in the wild and struggling to survive with only the most basic hardware. It wasn’t about “dislocation” or “coming of age” or “the will to survive”. It was about the challenges you face if you are lost in the woods with a little axe. My mental picture of the story was all in the details.
I couldn’t articulate why it made me uncomfortable to talk about themes. It might not even have stood out in that regard, considering how much of school seemed to be spent memorizing arbitrary things for no discernable reason. But now that I’m older, there’s one fact that particularly stands out when I think about my childhood relationship with literature.
Whenever I loved a story, I couldn’t communicate what I loved about it without launching into a hyperactive synopsis of names and events.