Motif in Literature
And yet, however frequently equated with larger terms, motifs are invariably "small," autonomous units of meaning. With Werner Sollors, we might consider theme to be a text's "aboutness" and motifs the discrete elements that make up its "treatment." Motifs are the "basic components" of literary texts, "small substantial content units," or the "details out of which full-fledged narratives are composed." Theme is a structured group of motifs, and "wider thematic potential" is the result of recurring motifs. Thus, the two broken, failed swords of Beowulf can be said to add essential, thematic force to the sense of loss that pervades the poem: Hrunting and Naegling are not in and of themselves what Beowulf is about, but as object motifs, in failing the hero in a time of need, they function as distinct elements in the poet's elaboration of cyclical violence and social disintegration. Likewise, character and setting motifs reverberate throughout the poetry of Charles Baudelaire in ways that build an overall sense of anxiety about mechanized modernity: the idle dawdler (flâneur), for one, and the contrasting "traumatophile type"—a man propelled both by irrational fear and by sudden, nervous tics of the body—are both lost in the faceless, phantom masses of Baudelaire's big-city crowd. While not interchangeable, then, (small) motif and (larger) theme are nonetheless "mutually dependent" aspects of all literature—both integral "constants" that contribute to the intertextual matrix of literary culture.
Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Molecular distillation to My station and its duties:Motif in Literature - Ambiguity, Size, Etymology: Dynamism, King Motifs In The Medieval Arthurian Tradition, Stith Thompson's Motif-index Of Folk-literature