What is Anthropomorphism? Definition, Examples of Anthropomorphism in Literature

Anthropomorphism definition: Anthropomorphism is a technique used by writers in which human traits, emotions, or behaviors are assigned to non-humans such as animals, plants, or natural phenomena.

What is Anthropomorphism?

When writers ascribe human traits to non-humans such as animals, plants, or natural phenomena to make them behave and appear like humans, it is referred to as anthropomorphism.

Example of Anthropomorphism

In the popular television show Garfield, the creators developed the cat Garfield into a human like cat that behaves as a human would. The cat can reason, speak, and exhibits overall human-like behavior.

Anthropomorphism vs. Personification

Anthropomorphism is similar to personification in the sense that both techniques involve human traits being assigned to non-humans; however, they differ in the sense that personification applies human characteristics for the purpose of imagery whereas anthropomorphism’s intended purpose is to make the non-humans seem as if they were human beings.

Example of Personification:

In Langston Hughes’ poem “Dream Deferred” he uses personification to add imagery to the dream he is describing:

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?”

A dream deferred is given the human characteristic of being able to run. This is an example of personification rather than anthropomorphism because the application of the human trait of running gives imagery to the dream deferred rather than making the dream into an actual human being.

The Function of Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is often used when the writer is developing non-humans into characters in his story. Often times, when writers are trying to appeal to young children, the use of animals and other non-humans as characters can be an effective technique. When appealing to adults, anthropomorphism is a popular technique use in political or social satires. With both children and adults, having non-humans behave as human beings can create a less threatening and more effective way to send a message.

Examples of Anthropomorphism in Literature

In the novella Animal Farm by George Orwell, anthropomorphism is used to create a political satire in response to Russian communism. Orwell creates a story in which all of the characters are animals that are representative of Russian leaders during this politically controversial time in Russian history. This is an example of how anthropomorphism is used in satire to appeal to an adult audience.

In the children’s series Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems, the main characters are an elephant and pig that behave just as humans. Willems uses an elephant and pig rather than two people to appeal to his children audience. The pig and elephant go through many adventures in which they teach children such values as waiting and sharing.

Summary: What Does Anthropomorphism Mean?

Define anthropomorphism in poetry: Anthropomorphism is a literary technique in which writers assign human qualities to non-humans in order to make them appear as if they were human beings.

Final Example:

Just like in children’s book, children’s movies also often employ the use of anthropomorphism. For example, in the popular Disney movie Frozen, anthropomorphism is used with the snowman character Olaf.

The writer applies human characteristics to the non-human snowman with the ability to talk and reason to the non-human, snowman. This use of anthropomorphism is intended to appeal to a young audience and create humor with this comical character.