Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.


Any reference to a flower or any kind of floral imagery within the text serves as an indirect reference to the presence of love. Because Florentino himself makes a strong association between flowers and love, the reader may also. Florentino expresses his affections for Fermina (and a number of his mistresses) by sending them flowers, as is customary. However, the novel brings special meaning to flowers, as does Florentino. He uses flowers, namely camellias and roses, to express his feelings for Fermina, and to remember her. In Chapter 2, Florentino is so impassioned by his love for Fermina, that he eats gardenias and rose petals in order to know and consume her, figuratively. In many of his letters, Florentino sends Fermina a white camellia, the "flower of promise," a gesture which represents his undying love for her. Also, Florentino serenades Fermina with a single violin concerto, entitled "Crowned Goddess, which he composes in her honor, after seeing her wearing a crown of flowers atop her head.


Consistently throughout the novel, the presence of rain is either indicative or foreboding of a pivotal scene or critical turn of events in the book, such as when torrential rains flood the city on the day of Dr. Urbino's funeral. Rains also ravage the city on Pentecost Sunday, the day of the Doctor's death. Rain and other derivatives of water (rivers, puddles, tears) are frequently represented in the book as bearers of cleansing and change, whether that change be positive or negative. The immense downpour that floods the city in the first chapter brings upon two drastic changes: the death of the prominent Doctor, and the the reappearance of Florentino Ariza in Fermina's life. Water is referenced yet again in Chapter 2 when Transito Ariza finds Florentino asleep where drowning victims are known to wash ashore, for Florentino is a victim not of the ocean, but of his obsessive love for Fermina, and the self-inflicted suffering he endures for her.


References to birds as representations of danger and temptation are made continually throughout the novel. The single most important bird in the novel is the cunning parrot which is responsible for Dr. Urbino's death, and establishes the meaning for later references to birds. The prostitutes at a transient hotel are referred to as "birds," a term also used to describe the promiscuous-looking women who ride the trolley with Florentino. The birds in this and in later chapters pose a danger or a possible threat to the characters, as the "birds" at the hotel threaten Florentino's purity. In Chapter 2, when Florentino first approaches and speaks to Fermina, bird droppings fall and splatter onto Fermina's embroidery work, foreboding the romance's ill fate. Later, in Chapter 3, Dr. Urbino says, as he leaves the house of Lorenzo and Fermina Daza, to beware, for the birds — like women — will peck one's eyes out.