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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.
This motif recurs throughout the novel, and adds structure to the sudden train of events that follow "Lucky" Buster's rescue. The idea of luck and chance is conceived of differently in the Cherokee world than it is in American life, and it helps to illuminate the differences between the two cultures. The Las Vegas setting epitomizes the way that white America conceives of luck and chance—it always relates back to money. Taylor leaves Las Vegas having lost the fifty dollars that she was lucky enough to find on her car. At the same time, Franklin Turnbo is remembering a time when he found himself without gas in the middle of the highway in the Cherokee Nation. He hears the meadowlarks singing, and looks around him, and feels so lucky just to live where he does. Taylor comments in the beginning of the book that she feels like she just cannot think that much about luck, one way or the other. Whether or not it was lucky for she and Turtle to fall into this life that led them back to the Nation is still seems unclear to her at the end of the book. Indeed, the "gambling agenda" on the blackboard in the final chapter epitomizes the way in which chance governs human life.
Images of nature's cycles and systems recur throughout the novel. In addition to animal imagery—birds, pigs, turtles, and horses—Kingsolver often uses the predator-prey relationship to explain human behavior. The book suggests that sometimes human beings act out of a survival instinct to protect themselves and their families. This animal instinct cannot worry about feelings or compassion; it acts according to the laws of nature. When Jax sees the coyote devour eggs to feed her young, he seems to see his life in terms of predator- prey roles. Taylor leaves Jax to protect her daughter; Jax has sex with Gundi, drawn by the temptation of sexual pleasure. When Taylor sees the salmon ascending the ladder to get back to their birthplace, she is reminded of herself, struggling to care for herself and Turtle. Like the salmon work just to be eaten by sea lions at the top of the ladder, so does Taylor work to find herself only further behind. The last important example is the way the author compares Annawake to a bird of prey. Annawake sees herself as a hawk who has lost her other wing, and now she is merely "tearing flesh to keep her own alive."
Proximity to nature is also one of the traits that separates the Cherokee Nation from the rest of America. Cherokee people have continued to live alongside nature, instead of against it. When Annawake comes to visit Taylor, the birds have ruined nearly every apricot on her tree. On the Cherokee Nation, Sugar's husband has planted a mulberry tree to distract the birds from his peaches. On the Nation, rivers teem with fish, while Taylor and Turtle have to splurge to make tuna fish sandwiches. Nature is thus used to contrast the Cherokee way of life with the life of other Americans.