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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
A repeated motif in Bird by Bird is the
importance of memories. Memories become a primary source of writing,
and the underlying motivation for writing. Lamott refers to memories
early in the book, when she describes encouraging her students to
write specifically about their childhoods. She herself writes about
her own memories throughout Bird by Bird; the book
is partly a memoir and a record of her life of writing. She also
echoes the common sentiment that writers should write what they
know. She also says that writers should not make the mistake of
indulging themselves and assuming that everything that happened
to them is important and noteworthy. Memories are simply the starting
point for writing, the means of discovering what experiences arouse
passion and need to be shared.
Lamott often refers to people in her life who are either
ill or dying. In addition to Pam and Mr. Lamott, both of whom inspired
Lamott’s writing, Lamott also describes the short life of baby Brice.
She describes visits to the nursing home, where she interacts with
the elderly, often infirm patients. She even suggests that writers
write as if they are dying the next day. Dying, for Lamott, is a
reminder of the precious feeling of living life and the passion
that comes from writing. Lamott also sees dying and illness as a
necessary part of life. She allows her young son to see Brice’s
dead body, and she refuses to turn away from the challenges of death.
Lamott also refers to physical and mental illness, often in humorous,
self-deprecating prose. Lamott’s treatment of both motifs suggests
that illness and death are less awful if approached with grace and
Lamott rarely expresses just one side of any subject or
defends a strong opinion. Instead, she refers to the conflict between
opposing views, a conflict she feels is necessary in order to write
and live well. You must write about both life and death. You can
both love your child and want to throw him away. You can feel both
love and hate, often at the same time. This conflict between opposing
forces is a necessary part of life. Balance is the key, as Lamott
shows by making peace with her own darker thoughts and the troubling
events in her life. In fact, Lamott believes that the truth can
emerge only when one tries to see the whole picture, rather than
viewing the world through any one viewpoint.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bird by Bird!