Whereas the focus of the narrative paradigm was on stories as “rationales” or “arguments,” fantasy theme analysis is interested in how stories develop, how they “chain out” to larger audiences, and the rhetorical roles they serve. Fantasy theme analysis illuminates how stories sweep through a group of people: how people latch on to them, repeat, elaborate, and use them (Bormann, 1972, p. 399) to make sense of their experience. As a result, when you are using a fantasy theme approach, you will often have to examine numerous related texts to establish the existence of significant themes that converge in a coherent rhetorical vision for communities or societies.

Bormann offers a method for analysis that we abstract as a series of related critical questions. We then demonstrate how the method works, applying it to the Gettysburg Address and Smackdown! to rehearse its use as well as demonstrate the broad applicability of Bormann’s approach.