Especially in a world where forces pit group against group, universal themes appeal because we all share certain experiences: Birth and death, certainly; hopefully love, probably sex, maybe crime & revenge and possibly war. We also share basic needs and common feelings. These are universal for all people in all cultures and allow a story to appeal to a wider audience.
Common themes also help a writer to better understand what they’re writing about, even things lost to historical obscurity. I remember researching Enheduanna, the first named author, and learning that she was known as the Goddess of the Reeds. This made sense for a Sumerian goddess. Reeds in the Euphrates Valley had to be as culturally important as reeds in the Nile Valley and thus a god dedicated to them was understandable. But wait, no, further research revealed the lady earned her title in a most common way. It seems the reeds were a natural trysting place for young lovers in her time & yup, Enheduanna had earned that title long before Sargon The Great elevated her to chief priestess. Interestingly, a line from one of Enheduanna poems is, “How she carried beauty like the rising moonlight.” Compare that line to Byron’s, “She walked in beauty like the night.” Common themes are timeless.
Writers don’t need to be told what these truths mean for our characters – it’s our job to create that meaning. But we may differ on what themes are eternal and which are important to us.
What eternal themes occur in your writing?