Motifs and symbols are closely related. A symbol is an idea, image, sound, and so on that represents something else and helps us understand that better. A motif will essentially do the same thing; however, a motif will repeat itself through a literary work. A motif is a reoccurring element. In a way, a motif is a type of symbol. All motifs are symbols, but not all symbols are motifs, because they are not reoccurring.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson has some great motifs that not only run throughout the novel, but appear throughout the series. One of them is the scar on Isabel's face. Madam Lockton has Isabel branded with the letter "I" for Isabel's insolence, and this ends up having the opposite effect that Madam Lockton intended. Madam Lockton wanted the mark on Isabel's face to be a demoralizing mark of her life's station, but Isabel found strength in her scar in the same way that her father found strength in his marks. Madam Lockton inadvertently helped Isabel find her inner strength and identity, and Isabel will repeatedly consider the mark and its implications.
I did not ask for it, but I would carry it as Poppa carried his. It made me his daughter. It made me strong.
This mark stands for Isabel.
Another motif is the bees. The bees are symbolic of Isabel's state of mind, and the bees are used to show readers how unclearly Isabel is thinking. The bee motif becomes very prevalent after Madam Lockton sells Ruth, and the seemingly hectic nature of a beehive is a wonderful image of how scattered and hectic Isabel's state of mind is at various points in the novel.
The bees threatened to overtake my mind again, their wings beating quickly.