In the novel's introduction, John McGahern says Stoner is a "novel about work." This includes not only traditional work, such as Stoner's life on the farm and his career as a professor, but also the work one puts into life and relationships.
One of the central themes in the novel is the manifestation of passion. Stoner's passions manifest themselves into failures, as proven by the bleak end of his life. Stoner has two primary passions: knowledge and love. According to Morris Dickstein, "he fails at both."
Love is also a widely recognized theme in Stoner . The novel's representation of love moves beyond romance; it highlights bliss and suffering that can be qualities of love. Both Stoner and Lomax discovered a love of literature early in their lives, and it is this love that ultimately endures throughout Stoner's life.
Another of the novel's central themes is the social reawakening, which is closely linked to the sexual reawakening of the protagonist. After the loss of his wife and daughter, Stoner seeks fulfillment elsewhere, beginning the affair with Katherine Driscoll.