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What Is A Motif In Fiction?

What Is A Motif In Fiction?


If you’ve ever wondered what a motif is and how to use one in your novel, read this post. We define it and give you examples of motifs in stories.

What Is A Motif In Fiction?

According to Oxford, a motif is ‘A dominant or recurring idea in an artistic work.’

A motif in fiction is a recurring object, sound, phrase, action, or idea in a story.

It is a good way to create a mood in fiction. It also allows writers to get a message across without actually preaching. If they want to write about the theme of death, they can use motifs like funerals, winter, abandoned houses, scrapyards, ghosts, dead flowers.

Is A Motif The Same As A Symbol?

No, they are not the same.

A symbol is a concrete object that is given a deeper and more significant meaning. A dove is a symbol of peace.

A symbol can become a motif if it is repeated often enough. If the dove is seen everywhere in the story it becomes a motif.

According to Your Dictionary: ‘Think of symbols as baby motifs. They only grow up to become motifs if they’re repeated throughout the course of a narrative.’

Is A Motif The Same As A Theme?

No, they are not the same. Literary Devices explains it like this: ‘In a literary piece, a motif is a recurrent image, idea, or symbol that develops or explains a theme, while a theme is a central idea or message.’

Motifs reinforce themes.

One of the ways to differentiate the two is:

  1. A motif is something tangible. The green lantern in The Great Gatsby is a motif.
  2. A theme is abstract. The lantern reinforces the theme of constancy.

Examples Of Motifs In Fiction

  1. In To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the theme of evil is reinforced by the use of gloomy, haunted settings as motifs, and the theme of good is reflected by the motifs of the pleasant small town life of Maycomb.
  2. In The Old Man And The Sea, Ernest Hemingway uses references to Jesus Christ when describing Santiago. Santiago cuts the palms of his hand with fishing line. He makes noises a man would make if he was having nails driven though his hands when he is attacked by sharks. In the end, Santiago, like Jesus,  sacrifices his life for others.
  3. In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare there is a motif of light and dark. Romeo constantly refers to Juliet as a source of light, and Juliet says that Romeo lights her. The lovers are described as stars that light the darkness of the sky. Their love is described as a flash of lightning.
  4. In Arthur Miller‘s play, Death of a Salesman, the sound of a flute is a recurrent, nostalgic motif conveying rural, idyllic notions. ‘A melody is heard, played upon the flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass, and trees and the horizon.’
  5. In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe uses the motif of sacrificial rituals to show how these sometimes cruel traditions helped the colonialists infiltrate the community.

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© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this blogger’s writing, read:

  1. How To Write The Middle Of Your Novel
  2. 5 Things Writers Can Be Thankful For
  3. What Is A Bildungsroman And How Do I Write One?
  4. What Is A Paraprosdokian?
  5. What Is Author Intrusion?
  6. 43 Ways To Write About Love
  7. 10 Ways To Kick-Start Your Horror Story

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