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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The various houses Munro describes throughout the story represent the character and mood of their owners. Fiona’s parents’ house, the first location in the story, is described as “luxurious and disorderly,” a reflection of Fiona’s well-to-do father and her passionate and bohemian mother. This combination creates the lively spark that is Fiona herself. Fiona’s house with Grant reflects her adult qualities of grace and sophistication, with spare, bright rooms kept neat simply, as shown by her fastidious cleaning of the black scuff mark her shoe leaves on the floor the day she leaves for Meadowlake. However, her memory changes have also changed the house, as she has put sticky notes up to remind herself of the things she forgets, such as the contents of drawers. When she is gone to Meadowlake, Munro describes the house as dark, a reflection of Grant’s loneliness. Marian’s house, a fiercely maintained temple to middle-class norms, likewise reflects her personality and values. Appliances are polished to show their value as status symbols and plastic protects the carpet. The care for the house and its contents reflects both her pride and the reality that she cannot afford to replace these items. In contrast to these personal homes, the sterility and forced cheer of Meadowlake shows the impersonal quality of the institution, which houses people without truly being a home.