Motif Mural

A motif (moh-TEEF) is a recurring object, concept, or structure in a work of art. Also known as motiv or leitmotiv, the term can be used for any element that is repeated throughout a work -- a recurring image, word, object, phrase, theme, character type, metaphor or action that tends to unify a work.

This element recurs throughout a single work of literature or occurs in a number of different works over a period of time. For example, the various manifestations of the color white in Herman Melville's Moby Dick is a "specific" motif, while the trials of star-crossed lovers is a "conventional" motif from the literature of all periods. A motif may also be two contrasting elements in a work, such as good and evil. A motif is important because it allows one to see main points and themes that the author is trying to express, in order that one might be able to interpret the work more accurately.

Superstition, disguises, and reality vs. appearance are motifs in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In The Crucible, fire and names are motifs. These things are seen throughout the work but do not necessarily stand for something else. Another way to recognize motif is to listen to a symphony where a certain tone will recur throughout, for example, in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Beethoven's Fifth Motif or examine "Eleanor Rigby"

Additional examples can be found in films. The hero saving a damsel in distress is a common motif of American melodrama. Specific bird imagery, from the stuffed birds of prey to Marion Crane's name, recur throughout Psycho, perhaps even continuing as a motif that dominates a later film, The Birds. Some would say certain motifs, such as the idealization of the ice blond woman, recur throughout all of Alfred Hitchcock's work. Even the repetition of a significant word, such as "redrum" in The Shining is also a motif. -- More than you ever wanted to know about leitmotif in film and sound

Artists, too, reveal motif in their work.

"A painting and a motif that I struggle with for an entire year are not expended in a single picture. If it is of such importance to me, why should I then not paint and vary a motif five times? Just look at what other painters depict over and over again ad infinitum: apples, palm trees, church towers, haystacks." --Edvard Munch on his painting The Sick Child.

A symbol is a thing that in and of itself stands for something else. It is the use of a concrete object to represent an abstract idea. It can be a conventional or established symbol. For example, most people see a dove standing for peace or a flag standing for patriotism. These symbols are recognized everywhere as meaning the same thing, with that meaning is given by society. In literature symbols do not have a publicly accepted meaning but are created or invented by the author. An author gives meaning to an object through the use of context and connotation. This object can be anything the author wishes: the whale in Moby Dick, the pigs in Animal Farm, the wound in The Red Badge of Courage, the scarlet A in The Scarlet Letter, and the pig's head in The Lord of the Flies.

Your group will create a "mural" relating to one of the areas listed below. You will have 50 minutes of the next class period to complete your mural. Plan accordingly by making plans and assigning tasks today. You should come prepared with any materials you need to complete your task. Your group may work as much as you want outside of class, but the mural must be completed in class the next time we meet. Your group will then present it to the class.

Motif Mural Requirements

Be sure to consider the following in your plans:

  • Your mural should be designed to clearly portray your area's subject to an audience who we will assume know nothing of your subject or the literary work. Be sure to include prominently the name of the literary work and the author. Your group's topic should be clearly emphasized and defined. The purpose of your mural should be immediately recognizable to the viewer.
  • The clarity of your mural's text is most important. You will use a minimum of five direct quotations from the literary work in addition to any explanatory commentary you add. This text must be visually emphasized, not hidden among the illustrations.
  • Your illustrations may be hand drawn, or you may use cuttings from other sources such as magazines. You may not use drawings or photographs that already depict scenes from the literary work. Remember that your illustrations are important in helping the viewers grasp quickly the subject of your mural. Avoid confusing your view with clutter. Also remember, your illustrations should primarily enhance your textual references. A balanced use of text and illustration is the goal.
  • Your mural will be graded on the over-all effect it has in quickly and effectively pulling your viewer into your subject. Textual references are very important here. Strive to use those that will be of the greatest interest and informational value to your viewer.
  • You must use the paper provided in class. In other words, use the horizontal butcher paper banner so that we will have equal display space for each group. Your project must conform to that format. You may use a variety of materials if you want, but all that you do must fit in the area of the paper you're given.

Motif Mural Suggested Topics for Huckleberry Finn

  1. Satire -- Twain is known as one of America's foremost satirists, never afraid to hold up to scrutiny mankind's many foibles. Certainly, satire plays a prominent role in HUCK FINN. The mural related to this area must clearly depict through the use of text and illustration five distinct areas of Twain's satirical commentary relating to human customs, institutions, and/or weaknesses. Define caricature, juxtaposition, overstatement (hyperbole) or understatement, word choice, and parody and identify examples of each.
  2. Prejudice -- Twain makes many comments on the human condition in HUCK FINN. One of the social ills that Twain fights in the novel is prejudice. The mural related to this area must clearly depict through the use of text and illustration five examples of Twain's commentary of prejudice.
  3. Mankind's Hypocrisy -- Through Huck Finn's narration we learn much about Twain's opinions of humanity. Hypocrisy seems to be one of Twain's most important targets for change. The mural related to this area must clearly depict though the use of text and illustration five examples of human hypocrisy depicted in HUCK FINN.
  4. Religion -- Throughout the course of the novel we learn more about Huck's feelings about religion. The mural related to this area must clearly depict through the use of text and illustration Twain's feelings about religion in HUCK FINN. You must include at least five examples to back up your group's point.
  5. Imagery -- Mark Twain, like many realistic writers, paints vivid pictures of a particular time and place, including photographic physical settings and accurate snapshots of people inhabiting them. Your purpose is to select what you consider to be five particularly strong examples of Twain's use of imagery relating to places and/or characters and depict all five along with appropriate quotations from the text.
  6. Episodic Structure -- Picaresque novels tend to be structured in distinct and separate episodes held together by the presence of the first person narrator who travels through a variety of social situations and social classes in a particular place and time. Your mural must portray chronologically five separate episodes, each involving distinctly different themes and characters. You must find appropriate text from each that best sums up the plot and themes related to each episode. You should also include a unifying image that ties the events together in the novel.

Adapted from a project by Jim Power and Paige Mayhew.

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