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Searching for the thematic element in a literary work
The concept of ‘theme’ in a literary work needs clarification, and so do the methods for its identification. The theme is the overall message the author intends to convey in response to the social situation prevalent at the time of writing, and to the forces that unleash the conflicts besetting the social fabric or individual life. Through the identification of the opposing pressures and of the possible strategies for conflict resolution, art can become a powerful engine for social transformation. Three Zulu literary works are used as illustrative examples. Some insights are gained from a reflection on Zulu oral traditions, especially with regard to the understanding of the personal and social conflicts that trouble society and cause powerful reverberations in the clash of cultures and civilizations, as witnessed during the colonial period and its succeeding years.