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What is anthropomorphism?

Anthropomorphism is a lot like personification, but just the kind of term that students may stumble over in an exam if they haven't seen it before.

Like personification, anthropomorphism is when an animal or an object takes on human characteristics or acts like a human - so when "the dish ran away with spoon", or just about any passage from 'Animal Farm'.

The key difference between personification and anthropomorphism, however, is that in examples of anthropomophism the animal or object actually take on the human characterisitcs, rather than being attributed with them as part of a metaphor. 'The pigs read the ashen sky solemly' is personififcation (pigs can't read). 'The pigs now revealed that during the past three months they had taught themselves to read and write from an old spelling book which had belonged to Mr. Jones's children' ('Animal Farm' again) is anthropomorphism (these pigs can read!).

Anthropomorphism has many uses as a literary device. It can make literature concerning animals more accessible or funny to readers (think of Chanticleers interpretation of his prophetic dream in Chaucer's 'Nun's Priest's Tale'), or conversely, conceal social commentary under animal disguises (Chaunticleer doesn't seem to think much more of the truth of prophetic dreams than Chaucer's audience might have done). The use of animals in fables is a useful comparison here.

Laurie A. GCSE English Literature tutor, A Level English Literature t...

6 months ago

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