Personification Examples

Personification (or anthropomorphism) is the act of ascribing human characteristics or human form to something that is not human. The thing which is being personified can be living (such as an animal), inanimate (such as a vehicle) or even just a concept (such as justice or time). Giving a non-human object any human emotions, desires, movements, expressions or speech is described as personification. Personification can range from using a few human characteristics in a way which enhances simple descriptions, right up to giving something a complete human persona and fully fledged character. The device has been used for thousands of years by humans, with different purposes.

Personification Examples

In Literature

Personification in literature dates back thousands of years. Well-known collections of fables, such as Aesop’s Fables used animals with human qualities to help to illustrate some of the principles of life. These “animals” helped people to understand morals or messages which may not have been easily explained otherwise. The use of personification as a moral teaching tool continued throughout the ages with many cultures telling their children cautionary fairy stories involving personified characters, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears. These tales usually included a moral message.

Time and Death are both examples of concepts which are frequently personified. Many stories focus on people trying to cheat death, or stop the passage of time by interacting with human versions of these ideas. These stories are often symbolic of people’s overwhelming feelings of futility in the face of death or the endless passage of time. By giving these “foes” human form, they are easier to fight against. Depending on the depiction, these concepts can be portrayed as either male or female.

In another aspect of literary description, writers give completely inanimate objects human characteristics in order to make their descriptions more vivid. For example, in the phrase “the wind howled mournfully”, the wind is not literally howling in a mournful fashion, but the rich description gives the reader the chance to properly imagine the state of the weather.

In History

Archaeologists and historians have found paintings and sculptures dating back hundreds of years, showing animals in poses which are human, or showing animals behaving as though they were human. It is likely that early humans attempted to give animals human qualities in an attempt to make sense of the world around them. Giving the unknown qualities of the known can help to make things more explainable. It has also been suggested by archaeologist Steven Mithen that ancient hunter-gatherers would personify the animals that they hunted, so that they could better understand their movements and actions, thus making it much easier to track them.

In Art

Various forms of personification have been used in fine art, including the personification of countries. During the 19th century, a trend emerged for depicting countries as powerful women, who were usually known by the Latin name of the country in question, such as Polonia (Poland), Britannia (Great Britain) and Helvetia (Switzerland). These artistic representations helped to rally national pride and allowed artists to portray international events in more simplistic or understandable terms.

In Film

Some of our most famous films and TV shows rely on personification as one of their major plot devices. The majority of Disney animations involved personified characters, from Mickey Mouse to the Lion King. Aladdin even involves a Magic Carpet which has some very human qualities. Recent examples include Toy Story and Cars, which both focus on the lives and times of normally inanimate objects. Technological progress in the field of animation means that it is now easier than ever to give life to everyday objects.


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