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Motif (literature)

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For the form of art, see Motif (art).

In literature, a motif is a recurring element or theme that has symbolic significance in a work. The motif can be an idea, an object, a place, or a statement. 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 re-occurs to develop the theme in a novel: In the beginning of To Kill a Mockingbird the children are told never to shoot a mockingbird because mockingbirds do nothing in their life but sing for people. At the end of the novel the theme of senseless killing is re-visited when Mr. Underwood talks of Tom's death.

Motifs are common in poetry.

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.

A motife is also known (redundantly) as a recurrent motif.

In narrativeEdit

In narrative, a motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative (or literary) aspects such as theme or mood. [1][2]

A narrative motif can be created through the use of imagery, structural components, language, or other narrative elements. The flute in Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman is a recurrent sound motif that conveys rural and idyllic notions. Another example from modern American literature is the green light found in the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Narratives can include multiple motifs of varying types. In his play Macbeth, Shakespeare uses a variety of narrative elements to create many different motifs. Imagistic references to blood and water are continually repeated. The phrase "fair is foul, and foul is fair" is echoed at many points in the play, a combination that mixes the concepts of good and evil. The play also features the central motif of the washing of hands, one that combines both verbal images and the movement of the actors.

In a narrative, a motif establishes a pattern of ideas that may serve different conceptual purposes in different works. Kurt Vonnegut, for example, in his non-linear narratives such as Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle makes frequent use of motif to connect different moments that might seem otherwise separated by time and space.[3] In the American science fiction cult classic Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott uses motifs to not only establish a dark and shadowy film noir atmosphere,[4] but also to weave together the thematic complexities of the plot. Throughout the film, the recurring motif of ‘eyes’ is connected to a constantly changing flow of images, and sometimes violent manipulations, in order to call into question our ability, and the narrator's own, to accurately perceive and understand reality.[5][6][7]

Dispute Edit

Some literary theorists believe that the motif is an ineffective descriptor in itself, as the use of a motif or pattern is, if it is intentional, interwoven in a larger scheme of the work, such as a theme 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 Edit

References Edit

  1. James H. Grayson. Myths and Legends from Korea: An Annotated Compendium of Ancient and Modern Materials (p. 9). New York and Abingdon: Routledge Curzon, 2000. ISBN 0-7007-1241-0.
  2. (2004) Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir By Alain Silver and James Ursini ISBN 0-87910-197-0
  3. "Kurt Vonnegut Jr." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Thomson Gale. 2004. HighBeam Research. 26 Aug. 2010 <http://www.highbeam.com>
  4. Blade
  5. Saini, Tinku (1996), Eye disbelieve, Tinku Saini, University of Washington, archived from the original on 2007-12-27, http://web.archive.org/web/20071227024439/http://scribble.com/uwi/br/tinku/, retrieved 2008-01-31 
  6. McCoy, John (1995), The Eyes Tell All, University of Texas at Austin, http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~syverson/309-fall95/classpage/bladerunner/mccoy/, retrieved 2008-02-01 
  7. Bukatman, pp. 9–11.

External links Edit

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