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


Storms play a crucial role in the development of plot in Shabanu. Storms mark turning points and periods of transition. They promise relief and portend change. The first storm brings a reprieve: the family can stay in their beloved desert home until Phulan's wedding. The second storm takes away what the first has given: dust fills the toba and brings Grandfather to his deathbed. The third storm occurs after Hamir has been killed; it brings Shabanu a desperate hope that everything will return to normal and that the cruel workings of fate will be washed away. The final storm welcomes the family, now without Phulan, home to Cholistan. It offers the family a good omen, and indeed, their home, which the sandstorm had buried, has been swept clean by the wind.

The Rebellious Woman

For the most part, models of good feminine behavior surround Shabanu: Mama is a perfect and happy wife, Auntie is obedient and fruitful, Bibi Lal and Kulsum are faithful widows. Shabanu latches onto examples of women who do not fit this mold with tremulous excitement. She observes intently when the Bugti men come looking for their runaway daughter and understands the significance of her father's comments that the girl will be killed when they find her. She shares the story with Phulan, expressing certainty that the girl is now dead. The story recurs to her when she is running away from home. The story offers hope that alternatives to wifely obedience exist, but it also has a clear moral: disobedient women risk death.

Sharma also embodies an alternative to wifely obedience. Sharma's story offers hope and has a more ambiguous moral. Shabanu clings to and idealizes Sharma's story. Sharma, who seems happy and strong, does not exactly contradict this idealization, but she repeatedly reminds Shabanu that her way of life is not easy and should not be chosen lightly.


Three fights between men affect the course of Shabanu's maturation and future: the fight between Kalu and Tipu, the fight between Dadi and the man near the shrine at Channan Pir, and the fight between Nazir Mohammad and Hamir. Each fight escalates in significance, though each in and of itself is momentous. The first fight offers a prototype for the following fights: two camels, bent on murder, fight for the right to mate with the females of the herd. The fight imperils both the camels and Dadi, who tries to break up the deadly fight. The fight at Channan Pir demonstrates Dadi's prowess and popularity, but it shocks and repels Shabanu. The fight forces her to see the parallels between human male behavior and the unreasonable, bloodthirsty behavior of the male camels. This prepares her for the final fight, in which two men fight for the right to a woman's body. Nazir Mohammad, lustful and greedy, shoots the inflamed Hamir, who, more than anything, sees Nazir Mohammad's behavior as an insult to his honor.