Common themes in American literature include the great journey, the loss of innocence, the great battle, love and friendship, and revenge. The theme of a book is the underlying meaning within the story.
The theme of the great journey relates to a series of episodic adventures that lead the characters to new understandings. It is commonly associated with "The Odyssey," but in American literature this theme is found in Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" as well as the contemporary classic "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
The loss of innocence is also known as the coming of age story. In such novels, the characters discover the reality of the world. American author Ernest Hemingway explored this theme in his Nick Adams stories such as "Indian Camp."
The great battle explores big conflicts. "A Farewell to Arms" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" are examples of American novels about actual war. However, stories such as "Catch-22" and "Westside Story" also explore the theme of the great battle.
Love and friendship are universal themes. Any great love story delves into this theme, but so too do friendship stories such as "Stand By Me."
Concerning the theme of revenge, Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" is a good example. The entire story details the effects of revenge-seeking on the main character, Ahab.