What is Motif Contributing to When it Gathers Larger Significance Throughout a Text?

istockphoto 1263027770 170667a
istockphoto 1263027770 170667a

The motif is a structural unit that orders the text of a narrative and helps the meaning to unfold over time. 

Every element of text that occurs more than once in close proximity within a certain amount of time can be called a motif. 

Although this definition provides an effective way to understand what motifs are, it doesn’t provide much insight as to how they function in narratives or how they contribute to meaning.

 In order to do so, one must move away from language and consider the narrative structure as an altogether different artistic medium – like music or theatre.

How do motifs work? They contribute significance through synchronicity – they occur repeatedly within similar contexts at certain points in the story and help create meaningful connections between meanings.

What can a motif contribute to, or become, when it gathers larger significance throughout a text?

Even when audiences aren’t consciously thinking about a narrative, motifs can guide their interpretation and give it specificity. 

In order to generate this contribution, a motif must be seen as more than its simple dictionary definition. This results in two types of contributions – cognitive and affective.

What is cognitive?

Cognitive meaning is the content of meaning that comes from the plot unfolding: something happening, a person acting or communicating, etc.

 So for example, the plot can be focused on Nora’s unwavering loyalty to her father’s memory or her origin story is explored through the use of folk music.

What is effective?

Affective meaning is the feeling a narrative generates. Something that’s sad can generate sadness or empathy, or a story that involves suspense might make one uncomfortable (in a good way!) or anxious. 

The plot itself doesn’t directly make one feel anything, but it can cause the reader to become more aware of things they’re feeling and notice patterns in their feelings relative to the plot.

 It creates generative flooding: many symbols influencing many emotions and vice versa.

 Affective meaning is often subconscious, because no matter how much we might consciously think about the plot, our subconscious will determine what affects us and why. 

In other words, the plot can influence us in a variety of ways, directly and subconsciously.

What is synchronicity?

Synchronicity is when motifs occur repeatedly within similar contexts at certain points in the story to create meaningful connections between meanings. 

For example, the repeated motif of Nora’s singing bird can help create feelings of familiarity and empathy as she sings her childhood song to Jim over and over again throughout the narrative.

 The repeated theme of white birds flying in circles starts to take on symbolic prominence as it becomes more meaningful as a symbol of her childhood. 

At certain points within the text, these motifs land on specific issues that require an even greater sense of meaning and weight to be processed by an audience.

Synchronicity can happen when things happen that are similar to one another, like Jim’s arms reaching out of the window as he shouts above the bird and Nora’s father beckons from beneath them.

Synchronicity can also happen when a motif is more than just the meaning it provides – it can become part of the story through its symbolism, for example, because of how prevalent white birds are around Nora’s childhood home.

What are some examples of motifs playing roles in synchronicity?

At the beginning of the book, Jim’s song seems largely unimportant because it isn’t widespread throughout the text. 

However later we learn that Nora wrote it for him to sing years ago because she loved him. 

Also, Nora only chooses to sing it once in front of Jim during their first reunion after she leaves home. 

This suggests that her love for him is part of her origin story and also something that may have started fading away but came back together as a symbol in a significant moment between them.

Another example is the motif of Nora’s father’s ghost. This motif starts to become more significant when she sees it as a way to communicate with her father. 

The true meaning of the ghost appears later on when Nora realizes that she can’t communicate with him at all, and that he only listens to her sing, a moment where they don’t communicate directly but they both hear each other’s voices.

What is a generative story?

Generative stories are complex and meaningful narratives that have many different parts (i.e. motifs) contributing to them over time. 

These narratives use motifs to progress the plot, creating meaning, and establish a community of reflection that forms so that audiences can become more aware of themselves, their lives and their feelings.

How can this be used as a tool or in criticism? What are some ways it could be used as a tool for analysis?

The way one uses these techniques varies – it all depends on the critic and their interests. 

Some critics will use them for an artistic analysis to express preferences about works of art, where others might use these techniques to analyze texts (e.g., novels) for the purpose of better understanding people and situations in the world today.


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