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


Except for Las Vegas, most settings in The Goldfinch are full of antiques. Audrey’s apartment is full of historical objects and fine art. The Goldfinch, the first painting she loved, was painted in 1654. The Barbours’ home is full of antique paintings and furniture. When Theo discovers Hobart and Blackwell, he falls in love with the sights, smells, sensations, and nuances of restoring fine furniture and, like Welty, becomes a gifted antique salesman. However, in Theo’s hands, selling antiques morphs into an illicit moneymaking scheme. At first, he sells the fakes as authentic pieces simply to pay back taxes and debts, but he continues to fund his drug habit. When Boris returns and confesses that The Goldfinch is part of the black-market of fine art, Theo becomes part of the mission to retrieve it. Welty and Hobie revere antiques above everything because they share the belief that antique objects, not humans, are timeless.

Alcohol and Drugs

Many characters in the novel struggle with addiction. Theo’s father is an alcoholic who drinks until he cannot function. Mrs. Barbour innocently gives thirteen-year-old Theo a pill to help him sleep. At dinner in New York, Xandra gives Theo enough champagne to make him drunk. Platt drinks too much and takes drugs. In Las Vegas, Boris and Theo use beer, vodka, marijuana, cocaine, and LSD while underage. Back in New York, Theo continues to climb, or descend, the ladder of addictive drugs with oxycontin, oxycodone, morphine, and heroin, often in combination with large amounts of alcohol. Once, at Hobie’s, Theo passes out and hits his head. In Amsterdam, Theo tries to commit suicide by combining drugs and alcohol, but he vomits. At the end of the novel, Theo claims that he only uses drugs on special occasions, a few times a month, but his heavy and varied drug use means that he will likely face a lifetime of recovery.

Sudden Tragic Deaths

The main plot of The Goldfinch begins with the sudden tragic death of Audrey Decker and Welty Blackwell, introducing a motif that extends until the grisly crescendo in Chapter 11. Audrey’s and Welty’s deaths leave vacuums in the lives of Theo, Pippa, and Hobie. In Chapter 6, Larry Decker dies suddenly when he drunkenly plows his Lexus into a tractor-trailer. This event propels Theo back to New York City and further into drug abuse. Years later, Mr. Barbour and his son, Andy, tragically drown in Maine despite Andy’s hatred for boats and sailing. Again, Theo is shocked and puzzled by the sudden deaths of someone close. When Theo kills Martin in Chapter 11, he causes another’s sudden death. Although he and Boris disagree over whether the death is tragic or even a murder, Theo crosses his own moral line and is forced to consider death from an entirely new perspective: as a perpetrator. Theo’s own suicide would be another sudden tragic death in the narrative, but fate does not let it happen.