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

August 4

The date August 4 functions in the novel to provide what appears to be order in a chaotic life. Every important event in Florence's life happens on August 4: her birth, the beginning of her trip around the world, her first love affair, her marriage, meeting the Ashburnhams, and finally her death. Many critics speculate as to the exact meaning of August 4. Some claim that it refers to the date on which England entered World War I; others suggest that it refers to Augustus Egg's 1859 painting of adultery entitled "Past and Present." Regardless of the author's inspiration, the recurring pattern of August 4 is ironic. Florence's superstition with regards to that date suggests the foolishness of reading meaning into what is chaotic.

Heart Conditions

Characters with heart conditions, real and feigned, are a recurring motif in the novel. The motif draws attention to the "heart," which represents the intention behind action. Both Florence and Edward pretend to have a heart condition in order to get what they want. Florence uses the excuse to betray her husband and keep him subdued, and Edward uses it to escape from his duty in the army in order to bring Mrs. Maidan and Leonora to Nauheim. Ford uses the "heart condition" to draw a distinction between those with literal and figurative hearts. Unlike Maisie Maidan, who has a real heart problem, Florence and Edward merely use their "hearts" to cover their deceit.