Main Idea

Main Idea Definition

Main Idea includes the overall message of the text that a writer intends to convey to the audience. Almost all genres of literature have one or two main ideas in them. However, the main idea in literature is not limited to one sentence or paragraph; instead, it develops and grows throughout the text. It works as the central, unifying element of the story which ties together all other elements. In this sense, it can be best defined as the dominant impression or the generic truth incorporated in the literary piece. Etymologically, the central idea is the phrase of two words ‘main’ and ‘idea.’ The meaning is clear that it is the most important thought of a text which enables the readers to understand the layered meanings of the concerned text.

Examples Main Idea from Literature

Example #1

A Red, Red Roseby Robert Burns

“O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.”

This is one of the famous poems of Robert Burns, a renowned Scottish poet, and lyricist. The poem illustrates the intense love of the speaker for his beloved. The central idea of the poem is love, which the writer has declared in the opening lines. However, he further supports this idea by comparing his beloved with a red rose. He has also employed literary elements to make the readers understand his version of love. To him, beauty is transitory, but his love is holy and eternal. Thus, the central idea plays a great role in advancing the action of this poem.

Example #2

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

The poem, having an artistic expression, was composed to illustrate the courageous stance of a person in unfortunate circumstances. The main idea of the poem is the resilience of human spirit in the face of miseries and challenges of life. Despite having troubles and adverse circumstances, the speaker holds his spirit high and face the difficult time of his life bravely. His optimism and ability to overcome the adversity makes him stronger as he calls himself the master of his fate. He is not afraid of the problems and, this belief enables him to overcome any obstacle that comes to his way. Therefore, courage makes up the main idea of the poem.

Example #3

SCENE I. A desert place. (Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Act I, Scene I)

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches
First Witch
When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch
When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
Third Witch
That will be ere the set of sun.
First Witch
Where the place?
Second Witch
Upon the heath.
Third Witch
There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch
I come, Graymalkin!
Second Witch
Paddock calls.
Third Witch
Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

This extract has been taken from one of the famous plays of Shakespeare, Macbeth. This is the opening scene of Macbeth in which three witches discuss their next meeting point, where they plan to see Macbeth. This opening scene not only sets the tone of the play but also highlights the recurring motif of the supernatural creatures. The audience immediately gets an idea that the text is about the evil and foul play.

Main Idea Meaning and Function

Main idea serves as the pause for the audience. It provides them an opportunity to understand the writer’s intention or the reason for his writing. It also makes them recognize and appreciate the deeper meanings of the texts. The writers also use it as a tool that enables them to project their inner thoughts and persuade the readers. Moreover, some of the academic writings unconsciously instill main ideas into the subconscious of the readers with ulterior motives which can be good or bad.