Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Frazier uses seasonal variation as an allegorical device to reflect the development of his characters. Ada, Inman, and Ruby seem to evolve in connection with nature’s changes and cycles. Inman recognizes that his path is not strictly linear as he heads toward a place where past and present will meet. He even notes that his journey will be “the axle of my life.” The revolving motion Inman experiences is underscored by the novel’s treatment of time. Ada and Inman are haunted by memories—of themselves, each other, and their past—that bind them together and sustain their hope for the future.
The cycles of time are mirrored by nature’s rhythms. The night sky represents a cosmic map that might foretell future events. Inman frequently observes Orion’s path across the heavens and plots his own course by the location of sun and moon. As winter comes around, death settles on the landscape with an intensity that foreshadows Inman’s own death.
The novel focuses heavily on the past—both before the outbreak of war and before Europeans colonized the Americans. For both Ada and Inman, the protagonists, what has already occurred resonates with undeniable authority. Ada thinks back on her childhood and reaches important conclusions about the forces, both helpful and harmful, that shaped her identity. Inman recalls both the horrors of war and the spiritual consolation provided him by Cherokee folktales. The arrowhead that Ada and Inman find symbolizes life’s fleeting nature but also represents the potential for continuity and recurrence—Ada and Inman vow to return to see it in the future.