Motif: A dominant or recurring idea in an artistic work: "superstition" is a recurring motif in the play.

Imagery: Descriptive or figurative language in a literary work used by the playwright to help the reader better imagine the world of the play. Not limited to visual imagery, it can reference the five senses. "The smell of cardamom and tumeric wafting from the steaming pot of yellow broth made his nostrils tingle."

Theme: The controlling idea or insight of a story. The underlying or philosophical idea that the story conveys, expressed as a complete sentence.


First, identify as many images and motifs as possible in your script—you should develop an expansive list of these. Be sure to make note of the page number on which each motif or image is found.

Arrange these images and motifs into goups of common ideas; these are called "affinity groups". Name your affinity groups with appropriatly drescriptive titles (I find being "poetic" helps give the titles meaning: The Loss of Inocence, Love Among the Lost, Violence Born of Boredom, Busy Ears; Idle Minds, etc.).  There may be multiple ways to arrange these groups of motifs—some motifs and images may fall into multiple affinity groupings—do what makes sense to you.

Once you have identified and named your affinity groups, develop several themes (at least three and more are preferrred) that are supported by these images and motifs. (Refer to the theme handout I gave you.) Any affinity group might support more than one theme. The idea here is to come up with your own organization of motifs and themes. A good way to start might be to combine two affinity groups and see what ideas rise from that comparison. For instance, combining elements of "Youthful Disilusionment" and "The Controlling Power of Family" might give rise to some interesting themes.

However your mind works is how you should proceed. You may need to work at this for a bit to figure it out. Developing themes in this way is organic to the repeated motifs that the author has written and to your own process of synthesis.


Your paper should state a theme in a complete sentence (refer to handout and class discussion). This can be bold or italicized or numbered, but it is a "heading" for the content that follows.

Beneath that theme, identify the motifs and imagery that supports it in a list. Put the page number where the motifs or image is found in parenthesis (like an MLA citation).

Finally, write a paragraph or two discussing the theme and relationship of the motifs and images to it.


I'm assuming around three or four pages is about right. It could be longer, depending on the play, but I'm not looking for a term paper here!


Are there page numbers, 1” margins, 12 point font, staple in upper left corner, MLA style heading in the upper left?


Are there spelling, continuity, or punctuation errors, or missing citations? Does the paper meet all requirements on the assignment sheet?

Example:    (From "Riders to the Sea" by J.M. Synge)

Theme 1:   The spare use of color to identify specific items or landmarks of importance supports the concept of an otherwise harsh, unsentimental, and monochromatic environment in which the characters of Riders to the Sea live their lives.

Motifs and Images:

The white rocks (pg.2)

The green head (pg. 3, 5, 10)

The white boards (pg. 3,12,14)

The pig with the black feet (pg. 4)

The red mare (pg.5)

The grey pony (pg. 5, 10, 11)

The black cliffs of the north, the black knot (pg. 7)

Red petticoats (pg. 12)

The red sail (pg. 12, 13)

Discussion of Theme:

On nearly every page of this spare, short play, some object of importance is identified not by a given name, but by a color. The inference here is both an unsentimental lack of personification—animals are for use, not pets—and the rarity of these items in an otherwise colorless environment—there is only one pig with black feet, one promontory that is green.

Against this spareness, the use of nameing with references to color are heightened in importance. Even the use of color is spare—most references are to black and white. The use of actual chroma is reserved for green and red. In this environment, how striking the red sails and petticoats must be, especially arranged around the table bier with it's body wrapped in sails dripping sea water. (The dripping of water is also mentiond several times, which has the effect of intensifying the color of the rocks and earth upon which it drips.)

Motif and Theme  Analysis