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What Is Anthropomorphism?
Anthropomorphism is a literary device that assigns human characteristics to nonhuman entities like animals or inanimate objects. Examples of anthropomorphism can be found in narratives both old and new. Anthropomorphic characters appear in ancient Greek myths and many of Aesop’s Fables. More contemporary examples can be found in children’s books like Winnie-the-Pooh and The Tale of Peter Rabbit as well as in animated movies and series like Beauty and the Beast and Bojack Horseman, in which animals and objects take on human form.
What Is the Difference Between Anthropomorphism and Personification?
Personification and anthropomorphism are similar literary devices that can be easily confused. It’s important to understand the distinctions between the two when learning to employ them in your work.
- Personification is the use of figurative language to give inanimate objects or natural phenomena humanlike characteristics in a metaphorical and representative way.
- Anthropomorphism, on the other hand, involves non-human things displaying literal human traits and being capable of human behavior.
A writer could employ personification by describing a faulty engine as being “temperamental” or a harsh wind as being “cruel.” Of course, as readers we are not meant to believe that either of these things actually are capable of human emotions but rather see these descriptors as metaphorical.
3 Examples of Anthropomorphism
Examples of anthropomorphism can be found throughout literature and popular media. Some of the most famous characters from children’s books, fairy tales, films, and television shows are anthropomorphized animals or objects—Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Pinnochio to name a few. This is not to say that the use of anthropomorphism is restricted to children’s stories. Writers like George Orwell, author of Animal Farm, have used anthropomorphism to great effect. Other famous examples of anthropomorphism in literature and film include:
- Cars: The characters in the Pixar movie Cars are all, as the title implies, anthropomorphized automobiles. The cars in the movie take on characteristics that align with their make and model; for instance, a VW Bus is personified as a hippie.
- Watership Down: In his novel Watership Down, Richard Adams crafted a full civilization populated with anthropomorphized rabbits. Not only do the animals possess human characteristics, they operate within a society that mirrors human society—complete with its own mythology, language, and religion.
- Paddington: The titular character from the children’s book and subsequent film series is an anthropomorphized bear who embodies human kindness. Paddington is exceedingly polite and courteous to the characters with whom he interacts.
How to Use Anthropomorphism in Your Writing
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Anthropomorphism allows writers to explore fantastical characters and storylines involving animals and inanimate objects. As a writer, successful use of anthropomorphism can unlock a world of subjects that might not otherwise occur to you. Some tips for incorporating anthropomorphism into your work include:
- Think about animals or objects that interest you. Consider whether there are certain animals or inanimate objects that seem compelling to you that could be anthropomorphized for the purpose of a narrative.
- Reflect on visual traits or behavior. If you’ve chosen an animal, what emotional qualities does this animal seem to possess? If you’ve chosen an object, does its shape or structure evoke any human characteristics?
- Combine elements. Some of the most imaginative and successful examples of anthropomorphism involve combining real traits of an animal or object with more human-like characteristics. Think about ways that you can utilize behaviors that your character might do were it in its natural state.
- Continue to observe the world around you. As you learn about anthropomorphism, you might find yourself becoming a more keen observer of the animals and objects you see around you everyday. Think about how you might incorporate these new insights into your writing.
Anthropomorphism is a literary device that even novice writers can use to great effect. Learning how to use anthropomorphism in your work can help elevate your writing and diversify the subjects and characters you explore.
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