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


At the beginning of the novel, Clarissa’s movements are increasingly limited by her family: she cannot write letters or go to church, and she is confined to her room, with a maid guarding her. Her escape from this confinement results in an even greater one, with her actions restricted by Lovelace. Enclosure sometimes seems like safety, as when Clarissa locks herself in her room, but more often it indicates her trapped position. Clarissa finally escapes after her rape, but enclosure continues to follow her until the end. As she nears death, Clarissa stops taking carriages, then she stops walking, then she does not leave her room, then she is confined to a chair—and, finally, to her coffin. In the book’s conclusion, it becomes clear that Clarissa can only escape confinement in death. The enclosure of Clarissa’s body into her coffin paradoxically reflects the freeing of her soul.


Both Lovelace and Clarissa have significant dreams. Just before she runs away with Lovelace, Clarissa dreams that he has stabbed her and thrown her into a grave with other decaying bodies, and she is frightened enough to take back her intention to escape with him, although Lovelace will not allow her to do so. As Clarissa nears death, Lovelace has a dream in which she ascends to heaven, while he descends into a bottomless pit. In both cases these dreams are frightening and act as warnings, but Clarissa’s dream does not keep her safe and Lovelace’s does not make him reform. Similar to Clarissa’s “mad papers” and the letters that Lovelace writes while delirious, dreams offer a window into a character’s innermost self, which sometimes knows more than his or her conscious mind.


A preoccupation with money is a sign of bad character, and greed is frequently a motivator behind many of the character’s actions. The Harlowes align with Solmes because of his wealth, while Clarissa thinks his money grubbing is despicable. Mrs. Howe and Uncle Antony’s courtship is based on money and is therefore treated in a ridiculous, even laughable manner. Clarissa constantly refuses offers of money from Anna, Lovelace, and Belford and insists on paying for everything herself even if she must sell her clothes to get money for her coffin. It is to Lovelace’s credit that he is generous and gives money freely. Money is linked to class anxiety: those who have the highest rank tend not to be concerned with money, while those eager to rise in society are overly attentive to it. Mrs. Sinclair is an aggressive businesswoman and represents the grotesqueness of greed in both her wicked actions and in her repulsive, “manly” physical appearance. Clarissa shows that she transcends her social position by having no desire for money at all.