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A recurring theme or verbal pattern in a single text or a number of different texts. Adjective: motific.

See also:


From the Latin, "move"

Examples and Observations:

  • "The theme of abandonment and the motif of dual or multiple parents pervade the Harry Potter books."
    (Lana A. Whited, The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, Univ. of Missouri Press, 2004)

  • "[A motif] is generally symbolic--that is, it can be seen to carry a meaning beyond the literal one immediately apparent; it represents on the verbal level something characteristic of the structure of the work, the events, the characters, the emotional effects, or the moral or cognitive content. It is presented both as an object of description and, more often, as part of the narrator's imagery and descriptive vocabulary. And it indispensably requires a certain minimum frequency of recurrence and improbability in order both to make itself at least subconsciously felt and to indicate its purposiveness. Finally, the motif achieves its power by an appropriate regulation of that frequency and improbability, by its appearance in significant contexts, by the degree to which the individual instances work together toward a common end or ends and, when it is symbolic, by its appropriateness to the symbolic purpose or purposes it serves."
    (William Freedman, "The Literary Motif: A Definition and Evaluation," in Essentials of the Theory of Fiction, ed. by M. J. Hoffman and P. D. Murphy, Duke Univ. Press, 1996)

  • "Louise Rosenblatt presents two approaches to literature in The Reader, the Text, The Poem [1978]. Literature read for pleasure is 'aesthetic' literature while literature read for information is 'efferent' literature. Although one generally reads nonfiction for information, one must consider popular nonfiction to be aesthetic literature because both its form and content offer pleasure to the reader. In aesthetic literature, the term 'theme' refers to the author's main purpose for writing the story, and most aesthetic literature contains several themes. Thus the term 'motif' rather than theme best describes the different concepts that may swim below the surface of popular nonfiction."
    (Lynda G. Adamson, Thematic Guide to Popular Nonfiction. Greenwood, 2006)
Pronunciation: mo-TEEF
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