I recently stumbled upon three literary device terms which appear similar yet are subtly different. These terms are personification, anthropomorphism, and zoomorphism. Each embodies figurative language or writing that goes beyond the literal meaning of the words. A writer can either say something literally or figuratively. If it’s literal, then the words mean exactly what they say. But in figurative writing, there is a hidden meaning behind the descriptive words. When writers use figurative language, the description brings a deeper meaning and understanding of the words.
Let’s start with Personification. Personification applies human attributes such as thoughts or feelings to inanimate objects or abstract ideas. For example, when we say, “The clouds weep,” we are giving the clouds the ability to cry, which is a human quality. If we say, “Justice is blind.” We are giving an abstract idea a human attribute. The purpose of giving human characteristics to animals or objects is to create imagery. When a writer uses this type of writing, it gives the reader a more complete or deeper understanding of that which is trying to be conveyed. Personification is mainly used in a single sentence to set the stage about the object or animal. The goal of personification is to give human characteristics to animals or objects to create imagery.
Anthropomorphism is a literary device in which the writer assigns human qualities such as traits, emotions, or behaviors to an animal or an object. The purpose of doing so is to help create vivid, imaginative characters that readers can relate to because they are more human. An example would be the objects in Beauty and Beast, such as the teapot and candelabra. The use of objects or animals that act like humans makes the story more visually appealing and non-threatening to the readers. The purpose of anthropomorphism is to make an animal or object behave and appear like it is a human being.
The last term Zoomorphism refers to a literary device in which the writer ascribes animal characteristics to humans, gods, or other objects. Again this is used to create imagery to describe the character better. Zoomorphism can also include giving one animal the characteristics of another animal, such as a dog heard to “moo.” A special class of zoomorphism in which a human can shape-shift into an animal is called therianthropy – think of the character Sirius, in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, changing from a human into a dog. Zoomorphism provides the reader with insight as to what animal that character resembles or the animal-like personality of that character.
Each of these literary devices helps to strengthen or make a point more compelling and effective. In fictional works, figurative language devices such as personification, anthropomorphism, or zoomorphism increase the creativity of the writing. Use of them will make your work more compelling.
Have you used any of these literary devices in your writing? Comments are always welcome.
1 thought on “Literary Devices: Personification, Anthropomorphism, and Zoomorphism”
Thank you for this clear distinction between literary elements, Ms. Staight! I’m an English teacher from Washington State. I will be using your examples with my lessons on Golding’s Lord of the Flies, since he adeptly uses all three throughout the novel. Muchly appreciated!
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