Motif: A dominant or recurring idea in an artistic work: "superstition" is a recurring motif in the play. Motifs may be presented in related groups, such as transparency/reflection/opacity/visual occlusion.

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." Images, like motifs, are usually repeated—if not individually then in related groups; in this example, smells and colors.

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


Part I—Identifying Images and Motifs: 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(s) on which each motif or image is found.

Once you have identified and named your images and motifs, list them in a column with the page numbers of each occurance its the right. If a motif occurs more than once on a page, enter that page number twice:

The Future: 16,17,37,47,50,55,60

The Moon:   33,33,33,34,34,40,40,40

In this way, you can immediately see the number of occurances and the groupings of those occurances within the script. In the above example you can see that "The Future" is brought up throughout the play. "The Moon", though it has a sililar number of occurances, is tightly clustered within eight pages.

If appropriate, arrange these images and motifs into goups of common ideas; these are called "affinity groups". Name your affinity groups with appropriatly drescriptive titles. There may be multiple ways to arrange these groups of motifs; do what makes sense to you.

Part II—Developing Themes from Images and Motifs: From this list of motifs and images, develop several themes (at least three, and more are preferred) that are supported by these images and motifs.

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. (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.

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 each theme in a complete sentence (refer to handout and class discussion).

Follow that with a list of the specific themes and motifs, and the page numbers on which they occur, taken from the master list of motifs.

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

Include the master list of motifs and images along with your three themes.


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 items, animals, or landmarks supports the idea of an otherwise harsh, unsentimental, and monochromatic environment in which any hint of color is both notable, and sufficient identification, to the characters of Riders to the Sea.

Related Motifs and Images:

The white rocks (2)

The green head (3, 5, 10)

The white boards (3,12,14)

The pig with the black feet (4)

The red mare (5)

The grey pony (5, 10, 11)

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

Red petticoats (12)

The red sail (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.)

THETR 461:

Motif, Imagery, and Theme