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A motif is an element or feature in a work or piece of literature that unifies the the work: the unifying element can be a repeated image, theme, symbol, character, subject, or detail. You can think of a motif as something that continuously shows up in a piece of work to connect it all together. A motif can often be identified through words that are repeated in throughout the piece of literature, images repeated used, or images that continue to appear throughout the work. Motifs tend to be more concrete than abstract. For instance, a theme throughout a book may be paranoia. The theme itself is not a motif. Instead, think about a character in this book who constantly scratches himself and consistently feels itchy. The constant scratching could be a motif and demonstrate a sense of paranoia or an obsessive trait within the character.
While we think of motifs has being contained to a single piece of literature that we are reading or viewing, motifs may be found spanning across an author’s body of works. This means instead of the motif appearing just in one work, it repeatedly shows up in many of the author’s other works. The works of Edgar Allan Poe can provide us with a good example of motif spreading across an author’s body of work. Poe often uses the images and idea of a masquerade for trickery, uncertainty, and death. He uses the masquerade in his short story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” to lead a character to his death. The masquerade in “William WIlson” leads to an attempted murder. “The Masque of the Red Death,” uses the masquerade to lead guests to their deaths. The concrete gathering constituted by the masquerade serves as a motif to the ideas of death and deception.
Motif can be seen in everyday life as well, and they may be recognizable across a culture. When we listen to politicians, especially those running for office, we hear repeated words and themes in their speeches. Often, campaigns are built on repeated words or a large promise. We can think about the objects and symbols we see when we watch these politicians too. Whenever you see the President of the United States giving a speech, you always see American flags beside or behind where the President stands. These are motifs of patriotism, power, democracy, and freedom.
Colors often serve as motifs that function across culture. We often associate green with jealousy and green. This harkens back to Shakespeare’s Othello. In the play, Iago tells Othello, “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! / It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on.” Red is used for a variety of motifs. Red can be love or passion, but it can also be anger or danger. White is almost always associated with purity and innocence, while black is associated with death and seduction.
The following examples demonstrate motifs used across the work of John Keats:
Keats often uses music, melodies, or musicians as a motif in his poetry. Music, for Keats, becomes a means of transition, or indications of a transitional place. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” music is a reminder of the dead who no longer make it. Music becomes a motif between life and death. In “To Autumn,” music is used to describe the sounds of the spring season. Music then becomes an indication of transitions between seasons, or between autumn and spring.
From “Ode on a Grecian Urn:”
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;”
From “To Autumn:”
“Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast they music too,–”
This bundle contains 5 ready-to-use motif worksheets that are perfect to test student knowledge and understanding of what motif is and how it can be used. You can use these motif worksheets in the classroom with students, or with home schooled children as well.
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Link will appear as Motif Examples and Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, August 5, 2017
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.