Theme, Symbols, and Motifs

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Theme, Symbols, and Motifs
Theme…What is it?
Themes can be found everywhere:
literature, art, stories, movies, etc…
The theme of a fable is moral.
The theme of a parable is teaching.
The theme of a piece of literature is
its view about life and how people
behave.
Theme
The main idea or message of a literary
work.
A universal truth
A significant statement a story is making
about society, human nature, or the
human condition.
Theme is not the subject of the work but
instead is an insight about life or human
nature.
THEME = IDEA
Theme
Stated Theme- expressed directly
Implied Theme- revealed gradually
through other literary elements such
as plot, character, setting, point of
view, imagery, figures of speech, or
symbolism.
Example
“‘Simply this: hunting had ceased to be
what you call ‘a sporting proposition.’ It
had become too easy. I always got my
quarry. Always. There is no greater bore
than perfection’”(74, The Most Dangerous Game)
Through Zaroff’s comments about hunting, the
author implies that hunting animals is not
sportsmanlike. With only speed and instinct,
they are not fairly matched against man’s
intellect and reason.
Theme…purpose?
An understanding of theme is dependent
upon one’s experience of life and
literature… yet…
Theme in literature can enlarge one’s
understanding of life.
The theme will never completely explain
the story, but rather supports all of the
other elements in the story.
Common themes in literature
The quest for immortality
The individual’s relationship with and
obligation to society… character vs.
society
Individual’s journey to understanding
him/herself… character vs. self
Individual’s relationship with and
obligation to nature… character vs.
nature
Common themes in literature
How justice and injustice are decided
What it means to be a hero or
antihero
What it means to be a survivor
An individual’s experience with
alienation or despair
What the future holds
Love and hate and effects of
Symbolism
The practice of representing things by
means of symbols or of attributing symbolic
meanings or significance to objects,
events, or relationships.
a person, place, thing, or idea that stands
for something else. They are used
deliberately to reinforce meaning.
For example, a sword may be a sword and
also symbolize justice. A symbol may be
said to embody an idea.
Symbolism
A symbol may have more than one meaning, or its
meaning may change from the beginning to the
end of a literary work.
Personal: a meaning uniquely associated
with our experiences
Contextual: a private meaning created by
an author
Cultural: a meaning uniquely influenced by
our culture (ex/ dogs represent faithfulness
in China, but impurity in Indian/South Asian
cultures
Universal: a meaning that is given to a thing
by most people and cultures (ex/ lions
represent deity, power and courage in many
cultures)
How many symbols can you associate these images
with? (Don’t limit yourself to just objects. Think about
shapes, colors, and parts of each image as well)
Motifs
A recurring image, word, phrase, or action
that tend to create unity within a literary
work.
Sometimes the motif helps to create the
theme in literature
A motif differs from a theme in that it can
be expressed as a single word or
fragmentary phrase, while a theme usually
must be expressed as a complete
sentence.
Motif Examples
A recurring motif in George Orwell's
"1984" is urban decay. Winston
Smith's run-down home, London's
crumbling buildings, and the overall
disintigration of the city all support
Orwell's theme of the miserable
results of total government control.
Below is a short list of common literary
motifs…there are sooo many more!
Clothing
Seasons
Colors
Death
Supernatural
Adversaries
Extraordinary Animals
Wishes
Magical Objects
Magical Powers
Deep Sleeps
Witches
Trickery
Illness
Consequences of Greed
Beautiful Princess
Flowers/plants
Foolish or Dimwitted Hero
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