Welcome back to the final post about Symbols, Theme and Motif. Today we’re studying Motifs.

Casual readers may have an understanding of what a symbols and themes are but motifs are a little trickier. Put simply a motif is an object or idea that repeats itself.  They are very easily confused with theme and symbols.


Symbol – Something that means something else. Theme – The point of the novel. Motif – A recurring object or idea.

The difference between a symbol and a motif is that a motif appears many times in one piece of text where as a symbol only appears once. Motifs can be used to build upon a Theme but are not a theme in itself.

Here are several examples:


Example 1

“Quote the Raven, Nevermore” -The Raven – Edgar Allen Poe

In Edgar Allen’s Poe famous Poem The Raven the phrase Quote the Raven, Nevermore is used numerous times to install a sense of madness in the reader.

“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!” Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!” Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Since the phrase appears more than once and its purpose is to drive the reader mad, building upon the theme, the phrase is a motif.


Example 2

“A phrase which here means”-  A Series of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket

In the Series of Unfortunate Event books, the narrator and author Lemony Snicket, who is also a character within his own books, uses the phrase “XXX which here means xxx” or a variation of to describe a word and its meaning normally in a humorous way.

“Inevitable a word which here means “a lifetime of horror and woe.”

‘A poor teacher  a phrase which here does not mean “a teacher who doesn’t have a lot of money” but “a teacher who is obsessed with the metric system.”

‘The phrase “impressionable age” here means “ten and eight years old, respectively.”

Each phrase is used to build upon the theme of each book.


Example 3

“Childhood” – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain

“Tom he made a sign to me – kind of a little noise with his mouth – and we went creeping away on our hands and knees. When we was ten foot off Tom whispered to me, and wanted to tie Jim to the tree for fun.”

The motif of childhood is prominent in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The motif is used to contrast against the main theme of the book, slavery and racism. In the example of both we can see Huck and Tom’s playfulness due to their youth and their ignorance of the horrors of the wilder world.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and I’m sorry that the final post is shorter than the former two. To make up for this, why don’t you read my post about Street Art, also published today.

If you haven’t already you can read part one, symbolism, here:

and part two, themes, here.


Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.

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