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

The Pioneer Past

Throughout the novel, the author frequently references Minnesota's pioneer history in order to record the influence of the past on the present. Many of Gopher Prairie's townspeople have retained the same old-fashioned, conservative values—especially thriftiness—of their pioneer ancestors. On the other hand, the city-bred and educated Carol reflects the spirit of progress in the early twentieth century. It is no surprise, then, that she feels so out of place in Gopher Prairie.

Carol's Memory of her Father

Carol often thinks about her dead father in brief episodes. To her, he represents love, understanding, and an aesthetic appreciation. She idealizes her father and longs to return to her animated childhood, and she feels disappointed whenever she recognizes that Kennicott is nothing like her father. Although Lewis does not fully analyze Carol psychologically or provide much information about her childhood, we recognize that her father's death was a traumatic loss from which she has never really recovered.