Motif

Magnifying class held by puff figureWhat is the difference between motif and theme?  A motif in narrative is a recurring element throughout a literary work. A motif can be an image, words, an object, a sound, color, or ideas. A motif is not a symbol. A symbol represents something, for example, a light bulb means “new idea”. Often symbols occur once or twice in a story whereas a motif repeats and is noticeable. A motif is not a theme, it helps to develop or explain a theme, which is a central idea or message. Theme is the deeper layer of meaning beneath the story’s surface.

Motif is more concrete than theme. A good example of motif is the ring in Lord of the Rings. It is present throughout the story and helps to develop the theme of power corrupts. In the Hunger Games trilogy, the mocking jay image is a motif that recurs to promote the idea of rebellion. More than one motif can be used. In Macbeth, blood is one motif as well as light and dark, and  blindness.

One of the motifs I use in Norman in the Painting is a pink running suit that Jill, the protagonist, wears. It helps to develop the theme of fear. Jill keeps in shape so she can run away from anything she doesn’t want to face. Foo Dogs are another motif. She buys several sets instead of the usual one and places them at every doorway of her house rather than the typical placement at the front door. Traditionally, Chinese Foo Dogs are imperial guardian lion statues. One male that guards the structure of the building and one female  that guards the family inside. Jill appears to be capable. She works as a CPA, lives by herself, and resents her older sister telling her what to do,  but underneath Jill doesn’t feel safe.

What are your motifs in your story?

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Filed under Rhetorical Devices

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