The purpose of Literary Themes for Students is to provide readers with an overview of literary works that explore a specific theme. These volumes begin with three overview essays that introduce the theme of race and prejudice in literature, dividing it by geography and culture into American literature, British literature, and world literature.
There are also nine sub-essays, which break these themes down further into subthemes that correspond to recurring ideas in the literature of race and prejudice. Sub-essays examine particular titles that exemplify the subthemes and show how that sub-theme has developed over time.
- Class and caste
- Disabilities, illness, and social stigma
- Ethnic cleansing, genocide, and exile
- Sexual orientation
Each work is discussed in a separate entry. These entries include: an introduction to the work and the work's author; a plot summary, to help readers understand the action and story of the work; an analysis of themes that relate to the subjects of race and prejudice, to provide readers with a multifaceted look at the complexity of human rights literature; and a section on important historical and cultural events that shaped the author and the work, as well as events in the real world (from the time of the author or another time in history) that affect the plot or characters in the work.
Additionally, readers are presented with a critical overview discussing how the work was initially received by critics and how the work is presently viewed. Accompanying the critical overview is an excerpt from a previously published critical essay discussing the work's relation to the theme of race and prejudice. For further analysis and enjoyment, an extended list of media adaptations is also included, as well as a list of poems, short stories, novels, plays, and works of nonfiction that further address the theme of race and prejudice, and thus students are encouraged to continue their study of this theme.
Each chapter focuses on the ways in which an entry relates to the theme of race and prejudice. Each entry heading includes the author's name, the title of the work being discussed, and the year it was published. The following sections are included in the discussion of each entry:
- Introduction: a brief overview of the work being discussed. It provides information about the work's first appearance, any controversies surrounding its publication, its literary reputation, and general details about the work's connection to the theme of race and prejudice.
- Plot Summary: a description of the events that occur in the work. For poems, some additional insight into the context and interpretation of the poem—and discussion of symbols and elements—is provided. The plot summary is broken down by subheadings, usually organized by chapter, section, or stanza.
- Themes: a discussion of how the work approaches the issues of race and prejudice through various themes. Each theme is addressed under a separate subheading. Several of the major recurring themes are discussed at more length in individual sub-essays.
- Historical and Cultural Context: a discussion of the historical and cultural events that appear in the work or that affected the writer while the work was being written. This can include large-scale events such as wars, social movements, and political decisions, as well as smaller-scale events such as cultural trends and literary movements. If the work is set during a different time period from that in which the author wrote it, historical and cultural events from both periods are included.
- Critical Overview: a discussion of the work's general critical reputation, including how it was initially received by reviewers, critics, and the general public. Any controversy surrounding the work is treated in this section. For older works, this section also includes information on the ways that views of the work have changed over time.
- Criticism: a previously published critical essay discussing how the work addresses the issues of race and/or prejudice. When no appropriate criticism could be found, commissioned essays were written to deal specifically with the work.
- Sources: an alphabetical list of sources used in compiling the entry, including bibliographic information.
In addition, each entry includes the following sidebars, set apart from the rest of the text:
- Author Biography Sidebar: a brief biography of the author, including how he or she was affected by or led to write about race and prejudice.
- Media Adaptations: a list of film, television, and/or stage adaptations, audio versions, and other forms of media related to the work. Source information is included.