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Thread: Personification v.s anthropomorphism

  1. #1
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    Personification v.s anthropomorphism

    I'm tutoring a very bright but dyslexic boy in English at the moment and thought it would really help him if I made a hand-out with a list of literary terms he may need or come across in the next couple of years at school.

    However, in the process of making this hand-out I've realised that I'm very confused when it comes to the difference between personification and anthropomorphism. Depending on where you look you seem to get conflicting answers. I've come across three different answers:

    1. Some sites seem to say that, although there used to be a difference, the two words have become pretty much interchangable.

    2. Some sites say that personification refers to inanimate objects whereas anthropomorphism refers to animals.

    3. Other sites say that the difference is quite subtle. They seem to say that personification is when an object or animal is described as having human characteristics for the imagery invoked whereas anthropomorphism is when the writer makes an object or animal actually behave like a human. (E.g. Saying that a rabbit twitched its nose in contempt would be personification but Peter Rabbit is an instance of anthropomorphism.) Another example I came across was that if you call your car Betty this is personification but believing that it won't start because it's being stubborn is anthropomorphism.

    Can anyone clarify this issue for me? I think that at school I was taught the second one but the prevailing oppinion on the web seems to be the third. If I'm confused, I dread to think what my poor tutee will make of it!
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    aspiring Arthurianist Wilde woman's Avatar
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    I meant to reply to this thread earlier, but simply didn't find the time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Lady View Post
    2. Some sites say that personification refers to inanimate objects whereas anthropomorphism refers to animals.
    This is the definition I have always heard, and it is the definition employed by College Board, on their SAT II Subject Test for English Literature. (Not that I'm quoting them as an authority.) But this is the most common definition I've heard, and the one that I usually teach my students.

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    My understanding is as follows...

    Personification is the rendering in absolute human terms of an abstract idea (i.e. Father Christmas, Death, Britannia, and so on).

    Anthropomorphism is the application of human traits on otherwise non-human (but not abstract) beings (i.e. Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit, and so on).

    Hope that's some help!
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    Thank you both for replying.

    Oh dear, Lokasenna, you've thrown yet another possible difference into the mix! That does make sense.

    I think I might just use personification and stay away from anthropomorphism altogether. As far as I can see, the students will be less likely to be marked down in any way by using personification for the whole lot and, in the absence of a definite and agreed definition for both, that's probably the best I can do for them. I just can't believe how many different answers have emerged!
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    Personification is the ascribing of human characteristics to nonhuman but living things. An example would be "The bacteria continued to spread impudently."

    Anthropomorphism is when the landscape becomes a character. The best example that I know of is Egdon Heath in the novels of Thomas Hardy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Lady View Post
    2. Some sites say that personification refers to inanimate objects whereas anthropomorphism refers to animals.
    I just did a section on this in college a few months ago and this was more or less how it was explained. We had an intire section of the course poems about animals and they defined the difference.
    "Come away O human child!To the waters of the wild, With a faery hand in hand, For the worlds more full of weeping than you can understand."
    W.B.Yeats

    "If it looks like a Dwarf and smells like a Dwarf, then it's probably a Dwarf (or a latrine wearing dungarees)"
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    l.u.n.e Aravona's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    My understanding is as follows...

    Personification is the rendering in absolute human terms of an abstract idea (i.e. Father Christmas, Death, Britannia, and so on).

    Anthropomorphism is the application of human traits on otherwise non-human (but not abstract) beings (i.e. Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit, and so on).

    Hope that's some help!

    This is the same view I had on these two. However I've read a description from a very famous Author about Death as 'an Anthropomorphic Personification' which just messes all explainations up entirely.

    Anthropomorphism as I was taught, is putting human traits on an animal. My teachers used explainations such as 'The fox is sly - well a fox isn't sly its just being a fox. Being sly is a human trait'

    Seems to be a bit of a grey area here.

    2. Some sites say that personification refers to inanimate objects whereas anthropomorphism refers to animals.
    I'd say of your points this is most accutate, at least to how I was taught.
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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aravona View Post
    This is the same view I had on these two. However I've read a description from a very famous Author about Death as 'an Anthropomorphic Personification' which just messes all explainations up entirely.
    Would that be Sir Terry by any chance?

    In fairness, his use is quite correct, as he is using 'anthropomorhic' as an adjective against the noun of 'personification' - the use is perhaps a bit redundant, but he is using verbosity for comic effect.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    www.markbastable.co.uk MarkBastable's Avatar
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    I'd say that Lok is dead on.

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    l.u.n.e Aravona's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    Would that be Sir Terry by any chance?

    In fairness, his use is quite correct, as he is using 'anthropomorhic' as an adjective against the noun of 'personification' - the use is perhaps a bit redundant, but he is using verbosity for comic effect.
    It would indeed be him. However it could also be due to the fact that Death is Death for animals also, which is shown as we discover the Death of Rats (the only Death left unclaimed)

    I agree with you though Lokasenna, you're way of putting it fits with what I was taught
    Nil Volvpti, Sine Lvcre

  11. #11
    Hi - thanks for posting this, it's been really helpful.
    I have one more question though:

    What is the name of the technique used when a part of the human body is given characteristics that are usually applied to the whole human form?

    For instance, in 'First Love', John Clare writes, "Her face.../...stole my heart away complete" and "my legs refused to walk away" etc.

    Are these simply 'metaphors' or is there a more sophisticated term to use?

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    I've just graduated with a bachelors in English in a college that I felt had an excellent English department, and I've never even heard the term "anthropomorphism." I was always taught personification is the application of human characteristics to non human things. Like, "The tree's branches grasped me as I walked me." A tree cannot "grasp." And, of course, this extends to metaphors/similes (the tree had branches like grabbing arms).

    When I first read the term "anthropomorphism" I thought maybe it meant extending animalistic characteristics onto non-animal things, including humans (which I know are technically animals). I always wondered, what is it called if I said "The branches were like grappling octopus tentacles"? It can't be personification (or, maybe it can).

    And Lok's definition just confused me more. These forums make me feel so dumb sometimes, lol. Though, that's why I'm here.

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    Hi, I know it has been months since this thread was started, but if anyone is still reading. I've always thought that anthropomorphism is when the human characteristics are essential to the story, like The Jungle Book or the Brave Little Toaster; wheras personification is just using a human trait to communicate something about a non-human.

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    You can check out the difference at these links

    http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictiona...ersonification

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Ant...ersonification

    Hope it will clear your doubts!
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    Anthropomorphism is at work when something which is not human looks human. Zoomorphism is at work once something which is not an animal is perceived to be an animal. The brain interprets some patterns (e.g.in the dark forest) quickly as some potentially threatening thing, because it is still better to be called a fool than to be eaten :-)

    In this context, personification is the act of making something non human to appear as a human person. Anthropomorphism can be used to do that.

    To artists, antropomorphism and zoomorphism are fun to work with.
    Examples: ipernity.com/doc/goetzkluge/20418827 and ipernity.com/doc/goetzkluge/21262603
    Last edited by Bonnetmaker; 10-18-2013 at 08:04 AM. Reason: spelling

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