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The Difference Between Motif And Theme


There are hundreds and thousands of writers in the world and they write in all genres, forms and categories of language, but some books stand out from the milieu, either because of the story or the style of the author.  Good writing fully engages the reader and carries him into the story and circumstances. News reports or informative pieces may not need much of embellishment as the matter or story covered needs to be presented in a crisp and straightforward way. However, if it is a creative writing piece, and especially when it comes to fiction, the writer has to absorb the reader into the pages of the book and make him feel one with the characters or situations. To do this, he has at his disposal numerous literary devices to spice up his work and make it gripping, interesting and very believable.

What is a literary device?

A literary device is a language aid used by a writer to add spice, drama and excitement to his writing and to suck the reader into the imaginary world or circumstance he has created through his writing. There are hundreds of such literary devices available and the author can choose freely depending on his writing style and genre. Some common literary devices used are Similes, Metaphors, Allegory, personification, Oxymoron etc. Let us look at two not often talked about, but nevertheless, important literary devices in detail: Motif and Theme.

What is a motif?

A motif is a recurring pattern in a writing work that helps to strengthen the main theme. It can be concrete or symbolic and keeps showing up reinforcing the ideas or underlying theme. A motif can be a subject, an idea, an image or event that the writer introduces at regular intervals to highlight certain events or ideas. In layman’s terms we may say that motifs are noticeably repeated hints pointing towards what is coming in the story. Prince Charming, beautiful maidens, wicked step mothers, happy endings – all these are examples of motifs in fairy tales.

Understanding the Theme

Every written piece has a purpose. The writer wants to convey something to the reader – an idea, a thought process or a concept. He does this through his theme. The theme is not the story line, nor is it a chronology of events; it is much broader than that. A story may have one or more themes that the writer wants to convey to his reader and connect with them. Themes can be death, love, loneliness, friendship, honor, emancipation of women etc.

The difference between a Motif and a Theme

As both Motif and Theme are very similar and closely related, one finds it difficult to distinguish between them easily. Here are a few pointers to make it easy to understand:

  • A theme is the underlying dominant idea in every written piece, while a motif is a repetition of certain patterns, ideas or images to reinforce the main theme.
  • A theme is broader than a motif. For example, if love is the underlying theme of a book, motifs may be in the form of a good looking hero, vulnerable heroine, chemistry between them etc.
  • The author uses motifs to highlight the theme of his story.

If the writer takes revenge as his theme, he will highlight it by using related motifs, like crime being committed, someone being wronged, person going through agony, protagonist planning revenge – all pointers to the main theme of the writing.

In conclusion, one can liken the theme of a piece of writing to a beautiful fabric. The color and appearance of the fabric is decided by the theme. The motifs are like designs interspersed all along the fabric keeping in tune with the main theme. For example, if the theme of the fabric is Mexican ethnic, the motifs will be of related patterns like the sun, Aztec symbols, boleros etc. They are not the same, but one helps in accentuating the other.

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1 Comment

  1. A long way, you can finish step by step, and then you can’t reach without a foot

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