When an idea or a thing is repeated throughout a text, and it is used in a symbolic manner, it is a motif. Motifs in literary works help writers create mood, and help them to highlight important ideas and themes that emerge throughout the work.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, there are many "small town" images and values represented. For example, there is a school play, where Scout and her classmates represent the various agricultural products of the county. There is a comforting scene with neighbors gathering after a fire. Things move "slowly" and people have nowhere to go and nothing to do.
In Romeo and Juliet, light and darkness are recurring motifs that underscore the love of Romeo and Juliet, as well as the hate of their families and their impending death. Romeo refers to Juliet as "the sun." Also, as Romeo realizes he must flee Verona and Juliet, the following quotation refers to dark and light: "More light and light it grows; more dark and dark our woes."
In Macbeth, there is a repeated motif of prophecy and foretelling. There are the three witches, who serve as a motif, and they foretell that Macbeth will be king, but then they also foretell Macbeth's death in a veiled way-alluding to the killing of Macbeth by MacDuff and that Banquo's heirs will be kings.
A common motif in fairy tales is the wicked stepmother. In Cinderella, the wicked stepmother forces Cinderella to clean house and will not allow her to go to the prince's ball. In Snow White, the wicked stepmother hates Snow White because of her beauty and plots to kill her.
Literary Terms Examples