Personification is a literary technique that brings inanimate objects or abstract concepts to life by giving them human qualities or characteristics.
It is a powerful tool that writers and poets use to engage their readers, evoke emotions, and add depth to their works.
In this article, we will explore the definition of personification, its purpose, and provide examples of how it is used in literature.
Table of Contents
What is personification?
Personification is a literary device that attributes human characteristics to non-human things or concepts.
This could include animals, objects, or even intangible concepts such as death or love.
Personification is a form of metaphor that makes use of anthropomorphism, a process of assigning human qualities to non-human things.
History of personification
Personification has a long history dating back to ancient times. In fact, personification can be found in some of the earliest works of literature, such as the epic poems of Homer.
One of the most famous examples of personification in ancient literature is found in Homer's "Odyssey," where the sea is personified as a powerful god named Poseidon. Poseidon is portrayed as a vengeful deity who punishes Odysseus for blinding his son, Polyphemus. This personification of the sea as a deity with human emotions and desires helped to make the story more relatable and engaging to ancient Greek audiences.
Personification continued to be a popular literary device throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In the works of William Shakespeare, for example, many characters and objects are personified, such as the moon in "Romeo and Juliet" and death in "Hamlet."
During the Romantic period in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, personification became even more prominent in literature. Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge used personification to give voice to the natural world, portraying the landscape as a living, breathing entity with its own emotions and desires.
In the 20th century, personification continued to be an important literary device, particularly in children's literature and advertising. Companies like M&M's and Geico have used personification to give their products and brands a distinct personality and appeal to consumers.
Today, personification remains a popular and effective literary device used by writers, poets, and marketers alike. It helps to make abstract concepts more relatable, create vivid descriptions, and add emotional depth to a work of literature or advertising.
Examples of Personification
One of the most famous examples of personification is from William Shakespeare's play "As You Like It," where he writes, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players."
Here, Shakespeare is personifying the world by comparing it to a stage and assigning the human quality of being a performer to men and women.
Another example of personification can be found in the children's book "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. In this story, the tree is personified as having emotions and a desire to please the boy. The tree gives everything it has to the boy, even when it is reduced to a stump.
Personification is also frequently used in advertising, where products are personified to give them a unique personality and appeal to consumers.
For example, the M&M's brand uses colorful candy characters to represent their different flavors.
Purpose of Personification
The purpose of personification is to make an object or concept more relatable and accessible to the reader.
By giving something human characteristics, the reader can better understand and connect with it.
For example, if a writer wants to convey the idea that a forest is scary, they might personify the trees as looming giants, or the wind as an ominous whisper.
This makes the description more vivid and engaging, and helps the reader to feel the emotion the writer is trying to convey.
Effect of Personification
Personification can have a powerful emotional effect on the reader.
When an object or concept is given human qualities, it becomes easier to empathize with and relate to.
For example, in the poem "Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats, the nightingale is personified as a "dark shadowy spirit" that sings a "plaintive anthem" of sorrow.
This creates a sense of melancholy and longing that resonates with the reader, and makes the poem more impactful.
Types of Personification
There are many different types of personification. Some common examples include:
Giving human qualities to animals or inanimate objects.
For example, a talking animal in a children's book is an example of anthropomorphism.
2. Pathetic fallacy
Giving human emotions to the natural world.
For example, if a character is feeling sad, the weather might be described as "weeping skies" or "gloomy clouds."
Giving voice to the voiceless. For example, in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," the character of the ghost of Caesar is a personification of his spirit.
Why is personification used?
Personification is used for a variety of reasons in literature, poetry, and even in advertising.
Here are some of the most common reasons why writers use personification:
1. To make abstract concepts more relatable
When an object or concept is given human qualities, it becomes easier for readers to understand and connect with it.
For example, if a writer wants to convey the idea that death is scary, they might personify it as a grim reaper or a shadowy figure.
This makes the concept of death more concrete and relatable to the reader.
2. To create vivid descriptions
Personification can be a powerful tool for creating vivid descriptions.
By giving human qualities to inanimate objects or animals, writers can make their descriptions more engaging and memorable.
For example, if a writer wants to describe a storm, they might personify the wind as a howling monster, or the lightning as a crackling whip.
3. To add emotional depth
Personification can also be used to add emotional depth to a work of literature or poetry.
When an object or concept is given human qualities, it becomes easier for readers to empathize with it.
For example, if a writer wants to create a sense of longing, they might personify the moon as a lonely traveler searching for companionship.
4. To create a unique voice or tone
Personification can be used to create a unique voice or tone in a work of literature or advertising.
By giving a product or brand a distinct personality, marketers can make it more appealing to consumers.
For example, the M&M's brand uses colorful candy characters to represent their different flavors and create a playful, lighthearted tone.
In summary, personification is used to make abstract concepts more relatable, create vivid descriptions, add emotional depth, and create a unique voice or tone. It is a powerful tool that writers and marketers can use to engage their audience and create a memorable experience.
What is the difference between personification and anthropomorphism?
Personification and anthropomorphism are both literary techniques that involve giving human-like qualities to non-human things, but there is a subtle difference between the two.
Personification is when an inanimate object, animal, or abstract concept is given human qualities or attributes, such as emotions, thoughts, or behaviors. For example, when we say "the wind howled," we are using personification to give a non-human thing (the wind) a human-like quality (the ability to make a sound like a human howling).
Anthropomorphism, on the other hand, is when a non-human thing is given human-like form or characteristics, such as the ability to speak, wear clothing, or engage in human activities. For example, when we see cartoon animals wearing clothes and driving cars, we are seeing anthropomorphism in action.
So, while both personification and anthropomorphism involve giving non-human things human-like qualities, personification is limited to the use of human-like attributes, while anthropomorphism goes further by giving non-human things actual human-like form and abilities.
In summary, personification involves giving human-like qualities to non-human things, while anthropomorphism involves giving non-human things human-like form or abilities.
Personification in literature
Personification is a literary technique that has been used throughout history to give non-human things human-like qualities.
It is a powerful tool that can make abstract concepts more relatable, create vivid descriptions, and add emotional depth to a work of literature.
Here are some examples of how personification has been used in literature throughout history:
1. Ancient Literature
In Homer's "Odyssey," the sea is personified as the god Poseidon, who is depicted as a vengeful deity who punishes Odysseus for blinding his son.
This personification of the sea as a powerful and capricious god helped to make the story more engaging and relatable to ancient Greek audiences.
2. Shakespearean Plays
William Shakespeare used personification extensively in his plays to create vivid descriptions and add emotional depth.
In "Romeo and Juliet," for example, the moon is personified as a "sick and pale" goddess who is jealous of Juliet's beauty.
This personification helps to create a sense of longing and melancholy in the play.
3. Romantic Poetry
Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge used personification to give voice to the natural world.
In Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," for example, the daffodils are personified as "dancing" and "tossing their heads" in the wind.
This personification helps to create a sense of joy and wonder in the poem.
4. Modern Literature
In J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, the Sorting Hat is personified as a sentient object that can think and speak.
This personification helps to create a sense of mystery and magic in the world of Hogwarts.
Personification is a literary technique that has been used throughout history to give non-human things human-like qualities. It is a powerful tool that can make literature more engaging, relatable, and emotionally resonant. From ancient mythology to modern literature, personification has helped writers to create vivid descriptions, add emotional depth, and bring their stories to life.
Personification is a powerful literary device that can add depth and emotion to a work of literature.
By assigning human qualities to non-human things or concepts, writers can engage their readers on a deeper level and create a more memorable experience.
Whether it is used in poetry, prose, or advertising, personification is an effective way to make abstract ideas more relatable and memorable.