Definition of Motivation

In literature, “motivation” is defined as a reason behind a character’s specific action or behavior. This type of behavior is characterized by the character’s own consent and willingness to do something.

There are two types of motivations. One is intrinsic, while the other one is extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is linked to personal pleasure, enjoyment and interest, while extrinsic motivation is linked to numerous other possibilities. It is also that extrinsic motivation comes from some physical reward such as money, power, or lust. On the contrary, intrinsic motivation is inspired by some internal reward such as knowledge, pride, spiritual or emotional peace / well being, etc. Characters usually have always a motivation behind every action. It is also the same in real life. Therefore, the implicit or explicit reference to a motivation of a character makes the piece of literature seem closer to life and reality.

Examples of Motivation from Literature

Example #1

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

All actions, which Hamlet commits in the play, are the result of his motivation i.e. revenge, justification and integrity of his character. Throughout the play, revenge remains a constant motivation for Hamlet along with justification of his action to the people. He is extremely grieved over his father’s death. His sorrow and grief is aggravated following information from the Ghost of his father that the murderer has not only taken the throne, but also his mother as his bride. This becomes a motivation for him to justify his actions and exact revenge of “the most foul murder” in the words of the Ghost. This motivation is further escalated when he sees his mother married with his uncle, the murderer. In fact, he finds an opportunity to kill his uncle, but he does not, as King Claudius was praying at that time. Hamlet does not want to send the murderer’s soul to heaven. This motivation stops him from taking action.

Example #2

“Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlow

This is the second example of motivation. In his introductory soliloquy, Dr. Faustus reveals his motivation very clearly. The chorus already confirms whatever he states in the soliloquy. The chorus informs the audiences of the play that Faustus received his academic degree of doctorate in theology (religion). He earned a doctoral degree only to become “overinflated and conceited” for his own satisfaction. His self-centered thinking brings up his moral and spiritual downfall. He desires to know more and more even something, which is beyond his capabilities. His motivation is pride in himself, which ultimately destroys him.

Example #3

Lady Macbeth from “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

According to many literary critics about Shakespeare’s characters, the most evil of all his female characters is Lady Macbeth that happens to have the worst motivation behind her actions, the reason of her becoming a motivation for her husband. She is highly cunning, skillfully manipulative, and much more ambitious than her husband, Macbeth. When she receives a letter from her husband revealing the prophecy of the witches that foretells that Macbeth will be the future king, she, at once, begins to plan the murder of Duncan. Then when Macbeth withdraws from taking action, she motivates and urges him to move forward. Therefore, not only greed and lust are her motivations; she transfers these motivations toward her husband, becoming a motivation for him to kill the king.

Function of Motivation

In literature, motivation is used to connect the behavior and actions of a character with the events of the story. Motivation serves as the logical explanation for what a character commits. It is necessary for the readers and audiences to be aware of the causes of a character’s actions. The core desires of characters lead the way to all actions in storytelling. Sometimes motivations of characters change with the development of the story. With a change in the motivation, the character changes too. For effective characterization, unified and dominant motivation is inevitable. Great characters have great motivations. These characters teach some good or bad moral lessons to the readers and the audiences. The readers and audiences get more interested in motivated characters and understand those motivations, which make or break the societies.

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