Theme vs. Motif

Theme vs. Motif

As we discussed yesterday, the theme is the main message that you want to convey to your reader. Theme is important because it helps the reader understand part of the reason you as the author wrote the work, as well as what meaning your ancestor’s life could bring to your family member reading the story.


A motif is a reoccurring object or idea in a story that can help to enforce the theme. It also can be something abstract, such as an emotion or quality like love, bravery or honesty.

The motif is often confused with the theme. While the theme is the main message or overall idea or lesson the author is trying to teach in his book, a motif is a smaller idea that we see come up again and again in the story. However, it can be used to help develop the theme but is not the theme in of itself.Family History Blog Writing

Example of Motif

Let’s turn again to the memoir, The Glass Castle, and look at examples of a reoccurring motif from its pages.

Fire is a motif in The Glass Castle.

Fire is a reoccurring object in The Glass Castle from the very first scene when Jeannette accidentally lights herself on fire while making hot dogs. Fire is a source of destruction throughout the story, from the family’s San Francisco apartment to Uncle Stanley’s house in Welch. However, fire is also a source of heat for Jeannette’s family.  We observe that Jeannette is fascinated with fire as a youngster. However, as she gets older Jeannette begins to understand the complexity of fire, its ability to do good but also for its capacity to inflict destruction. A fine line between order and chaos.

Fire and its uncertainty represent Jeannette never fully knowing whether her turbulent childhood and dysfunctional family have done more good than harm.

When reading books, look for objects, ideas or concepts that are repeated throughout a story. What could they mean? What could that object, idea or concept teach you about the theme of the story?

Try to use motif in your story to help strengthen the message of your theme.