The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Majora’s Mask explores several themes, such as loneliness, friendship, and maturity, but none are as pervasive as coping with loss and grieving. By utilizing both its expansive cast and time-loop mechanicals, Majora’s Mask is able to explore many different types of loss, as well as the different manifestations of grief. As the entire cast must reckon with impending death, the individuals in both Clock Town and the surrounding regions wrestle with personal and material losses. Their methods of coping run the gamut from denial to acceptance and every state in between. Individual losses define the characters, and their combined grief defines Majora’s Mask as a whole.
Majora’s Mask opens with a young Link wrestling with a personal loss: the departure of his friend, Navi the fairy. Although little is stated directly about Link has been impacted by their separation, his actions make his feelings clear enough. He’s set out on a new journey to find her, which means he rejects the idea of a life without her. Given that Navi chose to leave him behind at the end of Ocarina of Time, Link’s insistence on finding her is a form of denial, as he’s rejecting her decision and seeking to rekindle the friendship instead. However, he’s able to set his grief aside and help others who need him, which shows that he has not let the loss dominate his life. This puts him into stark contrast with the story’s antagonist, the Skull Kid.
Much like Link, the Skull Kid is reeling from the loss of friendship at the start of Majora’s Mask. Long before the Skull Kid found Majora’s Mask, he was friends with Termina’s four guardian giants, but they left him behind to protect the four corners of the world. Rather than deny their decision and chase after them, as Link does with Navi, the Skull Kid reacts with anger and focuses his wrath on the people of Termina. His rage is further amplified by Majora’s Mask, which gives him the power to inflict the same degree of pain on others that he himself feels. The only way to quell his fury is by reuniting him with the giants, thus removing the source of his grief. His calm demeanor when they leave at the story’s end shows how he’s grown, as he’s able to accept their departure without flying into another rage. He even goes so far as to ask Link to become his new friend, which suggests that he has found meaning in his friendship with the giants, even as they leave him again.
The people of Clock Town experience grief as they struggle to comprehend the falling moon. The clearest example of the different manifestations of grief occurs in the mayor’s office, where representatives of the Carnival Committee argue with the Clock Town guards about how to handle the crisis. The Carnival Committee leader, Mutoh, denies that the moon is falling and believes the carnival should go on as planned. Meanwhile, the guard captain, Viscen, believes the mayor should cancel the carnival, and the town should be evacuated as soon as possible. Mayor Dotour can’t make a decision, believing both parties have valid points. Although all three parties have been confronted with the same set of facts, each processes them differently. The irony is that they ultimately share the same fate, as Mutoh threatens to get the mayor’s wife involved, and the mayor is forced to order the carnival to continue with the guards at their posts. While Viscen and the mayor spend their final hours in the office in despair, Mutoh waits directly beneath the moon and shouts at it to crush him. Viscen and the mayor end their grieving process in despair; Mutoh never progresses beyond anger. Though their states of grief are different, their stories end the same way. If Link goes back in time, they die; if Link defeats Majora, they are saved.
The themes of grief and loss also appear in the quests that earn Link his transformation masks. The Deku King of the Southern Swamps, grieving his missing daughter, lets his anger cloud his judgment and blames the first candidate he can find. Darmani the Third, fallen hero of the Gorons, persists as a ghost that denies his own death. Mikau of the Zora, dying from his wounds, must bargain with Link to find Lulu’s eggs before he passes on. Even the Ikana Dead struggle with grief, as their afterlives are shaped by loss. Captain Keeta mourns for his fellow soldiers; Flat mourns the death of his relationship with his brother, Sharp; Igos mourns his fallen kingdom, cursed by the powerful Skull Kid. Although they react differently to their losses, those losses are the common thread that binds their quests together, creating a cohesive story for a region that differs from the others.
Loss and grief define both the main narrative and the side-stories in Majora’s Mask. The falling moon acts as an unavoidable existential threat that forces every character to reckon with their deepest fears. Their reactions have a domino effect that causes more grief in different places. Even the moon’s descent is set off by the grieving Skull Kid, as he lashes out after losing his friends. Only Link, grieving the loss of his own friend, can stop him by helping him not only accept the departure of his companions but find meaning in it, as well.
Time and Death are two of the pervasive motifs in Majora’s Mask. The motif of time serves to reinforce the game’s themes of grief and loss, as the passage of time forces the characters to confront problems that they can no longer avoid. The most obvious example of this is the falling moon, which symbolizes impending doom and grows closer with each passing day. On the first day, Clock Town is still full of life, as most people are willing to deny the impending threat, but they’re not able to maintain the same optimism by the final day. The passage of time forces them to confront the reality of their situation, as denial is no longer an option when the moon is close enough to touch them. The time motif is reinforced through the game’s omnipresent clocks, which act as symbols and markers of time’s relentless passage.
The motif of death directly ties into the themes of grief and loss, as death is considered by many to be the ultimate loss. The game’s characters wrestle with every aspect of death as they confront not only their own mortality in the face of the falling moon but the deaths of the people they love. Many choose to spend their final moments with their loved ones, as with Cremia and Romani or Kafei and Anju. Others, like the mayor and his wife or the head of the Carnival Committee, remain in Clock Town until the end, desiring to die in the place they loved. Those who have already passed on, like Darmani or the Ikana Dead, are also encumbered by grief, which demonstrates the emotion’s complexity and power.
Unlike most Zelda titles, Majora’s Mask eschews the conventional symbols of the Triforce and the Master Sword to tell its story. Instead, it uses Termina’s many masks, which have different meanings based on their backstory, their owners, and their role within the story. Taken together, the masks symbolize the diverse population of Termina, along with their hopes, dreams, fears, and losses. The Happy Mask Salesman recognizes this at the end, saying to Link: “But my, you sure have managed to make quite a number of people happy. The masks you have are filled with happiness. This is truly a good happiness.” Perhaps this is why the Happy Mask Salesman is so happy: because, like Link’s masks, his have come from the people he has helped.
Individually, the wide variety of masks symbolize different aspects of the characters and the world. The titular Majora’s Mask is symbolic of pure evil, as it corrupts anyone who wears it. The transformation masks represent the healed souls of the dead, carrying their spirits within. The game’s optional masks carry their own meanings, as they represent different things to the people who once wore them. Some are representative of the individuals who owned them, such as the Great Fairy Mask or the Trouple Leader’s Mask. Others are represenative of specific feelings or emotions, such as the Sun Mask, the Moon Mask, and the Couple’s Mask, which all represent the love that two people share. Even Romani’s cartoonish cow mask has its own symbolic meaning, as anyone who wears it is considered mature enough to access the ‘adult’ milk bar. Each mask has its own story behind it, no matter how trivial, and that story dictates the symbolic meaning for both its owners and the narrative.