Motifs are recurring ideas/effects (image, sound, action, or other figure) that contribute to a certain theme or larger idea. 

Motifs are not merely symbols (physical objects) although the two are related.

Identifying motifs:

  • Are there certain ideas or images that keep coming up in the story?
    • Why has the author included these ideas repeatedly? What are they contributing to the story?
  • Consider a particular theme: are there certain ideas or images that are associated with that theme?
    • How are these ideas associated with particular themes? Why these ideas? How do they contribute to the theme?

Always answer the “why” questions




The theme is the underlying overall message of the story about a particular topic or issue. 

  • The theme is NOT literally what happens in the story; that is the subject/plot.

Determining Theme:

  • How does the theme affect the main character(s)?
    • WHAT happens to the characters?
    • HOW are the characters described?
    • HOW do others interact with them?
    • HOW are their actions portrayed?
    • WHY does this happen?
  • Provide the backup via examples from the text.
    • “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Don’t assume anything. Be prepared to defend everything you say with facts.

Always answer the “why” questions.

  • WHY does the character do this? 
  • WHY did the author choose to use this technique? 
  • WHY is this important?