A recurring element in a work of literature. It is usually a dominant idea or theme and can be an object, setting, or situation that has some symbolic significance and is seen several times within the story. For example, in Shakespeare's Macbeth, hallucinations, violence, and prophecy all act as motifs. Also, in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, the recurring presence of fire and ice is a motif.
A leitmotif is a leading motif. The term was first used by Hans von Wolzngen "to designate a musical theme associated throughout a whole work with a particular object, character, or emotion" (Cuddon) It may also refer to an author's favorite or most commonly used themes.
- The term motif is French.
- The Italian form of the word, motivo, means "the subject of a painting, reason, or cause"; and the Medieval Latin word motivummotive means "impulse" or "reason" (Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature).
- The term leitmotif is German in origin.
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"Motif." The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Ed. J. A. Cuddon. 4th ed. London, UK: Penguin Group, 1999.
"Motif." Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 1995. Literature Resource Center. Thomson Gale. Macon State Coll. Lib, Macon, GA. 23 Feb. 2006 <http://galenet.galegroup.com/>.