Motif (narrative)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In a narrative, such as a novel or a film, motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. The narrative motif is the vehicle of means by which the narrative theme is conveyed. The motif can be an idea, an object, a place, or a statement. The flute in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is a recurrent motif that conveys rural and idyllic notions. The green light in The Great Gatsby and the repeated statement, "My father said that the reason for living is getting ready to stay dead," in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying are examples of motifs. A motif can be something that recurs to develop the theme in a novel.

A motif can also be used to connect different scenes or points in time in works such as Slaughter House Five or Fight Club. Fight Club contains a number of motifs used to organize the minimalist writing style of Palahniuk such as the rules of fight club.

A motif differs from a theme in that a theme is an idea set forth by a text, where a motif is a recurring element which symbolizes that idea. The motif can also be more like the central idea behind the theme, such as courage or loyalty.


Some literary theorists believe that the motif is an ineffective descriptor in itself, as the use of a motif or pattern is, if intentional, interwoven in a larger scheme of the work, such as a theme (literature) or in symbolism. Those who disapprove of the motif in general understand its implications throughout analytical reading but require more support to uphold its existence.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Motif (narrative)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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