The UVic Writer's Guide


Motif


A motif, or topos is a recurring concept or story element in literature.

It includes concepts such as types of incidents or situations, such as the aubade aubade or parting of lovers at dawn; plot devices, such as the lady's love token, which inspires courage in her lover, or the recognition tokens in plots of mistaken identity; or plot formulas,) such as the "loathly lady" who later becomes a beautiful princess, or the "femme fatale" whose attraction proves deadly; and character types, such as the despairing lover, conquering hero, or wicked stepmother.

In a more narrow sense, "motif" is also used to describe recurring elements within particular works, such as phrases, descriptions, or patterns of imagery.


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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 23, 1995