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

Beret's Homesickness

Beret's feeling of homesickness pervades Giants in the Earth from start to finish. Beret longs to return to Norway, and her flashback in the chapter "The Heart That Dared Not Let in the Sun" reveals the extent of her unhappiness in America. Beret wants to die and be buried in her emigrant chest—a symbol of her relationship to her homeland and her family—in an attempt to return to Norway. She also speaks to her dead mother near the end of the novel in an attempt to retain her ties to her home and family.

Scandinavian Folklore

Per, in his euphoric vision his future on the prairie, imagines himself in a fairy-tale role. He thinks of himself as Askeladd of Norwegian folklore, a character in search of the Castle of Soria Moria—a place that represents perfect happiness. Many references to creatures of Scandinavian folklore, especially trolls, appear in the novel. In these myths, trolls often represent a force that is hostile to humans. Throughout the novel, Per often refers to the obstacles he has to overcome in America—Beret's depression, for instance—as trolls who stand in his path to the castle of Soria Moria. The novel's repeated references to Scandinavian folklore also remind us of the characters' cultural heritage, which they have brought with them from Norway.

The Israelites of the Old Testament

Rölvaag frequently compares the Norwegian immigrants of the novel to the Israelites of the Old Testament, whom God led from persecution in Egypt to their new home in Israel—the Promised Land—after years of wandering in the desert. Like the Israelites, the Norwegian immigrants left their homeland expecting to find their own version of the Promised Land in the Great Plains. However, the Norwegian immigrants are ignorant to the fact that they will have to endure many hardships—just as the Jewish people endured in the desert—before they can finally reach the Promised Land. The arrival of the locusts and the minister's sermon emphasize this Biblical motif in the novel.