What is personification in English literature?Describe it.

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Personification is a figure of speech.  It is not supposed to be realistic or believable.  It is not literal.  A poet, or any writer for that matter, can use personification in order to convey an idea, entertain, make a point, create a tone.  For instance, Emily Dickinson personifies death as as kindly gentleman who stops for the speaker to take her to her final resting place in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death."  Here death drives a carriage, politely gives the speaker a ride, and points the horses' heads to eternity.  Dickinson is not trying to make this portrayal of death realistic.  Instead, she is conveying the idea that death is not to be feared, that there is an afterlife, and that the grave is our next home.  An apostrophe can include personification, if the object is treated as if it is human.  For instance, Donne's sonnet "Death Be Not Proud" is an apostrophe.  The speaker addresses death as one who is vain, boastful, conceited.  Death dwells in the worst of places with sickness, war, and hunger.  It thinks it has dominion over men, but in actuality, it does not.  It thinks it can kill, but it cannot.  But, again, Donne is not trying to be realistic here; he is showing us by using a figure of speech, personification, that death is nothing to fear.  We can transcend death in the afterlife.

You probably use personification in your everyday life when you say such things as Lady Luck or call your car a "she," or even refer to your stomach growling, or call your computer "baby" (Well, that's what I do anyway, especially when she's being ornery and slow).

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Specifically, personification is, quoting from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms:  "a figure of speech by which animals, abstract ideas, or inanimate things are referred to as if they were human."

This is different from apostrophe, which is, again from the Oxford Dictionary:  "a rhetorical figure in which the speaker addresses [speaks to] a dead or absent person, or an abstraction or inanimate object."  Apostrophe involves speaking to, while personification involves only giving to.

Edmond Spenser uses personification in his Sonnet 75:

One day I wrote her name upon the strand [beach],

But came the waves and washed it away:

Again I wrote it with a second hand,

But came the tide, and made my pains [his efforts] his prey.

A tide does not prey on victims or have prey/victims, so the fourth line is an example of personification.  Waves can wash something away, though, so the second line is not an example of personification.

I am not aware that there is any significant difference between the use of personification in English literature and the use of personification in other literature, other than the content, of course.  Someone who specializes in this may answer and have information on that for you.

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In English literature, such as poetry or even some prose, personification is a technique whereby the author bestows human characteristics or personality on another entity such as a tree, a flower, another living thing - or even an inanimate object such as a mountain, a rock or a wave. Sometimes he even (as in Keats Ode to a Grecian Urn) addresses the object and talks to it as if it can hear, and think about what he is saying to it. Another example would be Edgar Allen Poe's famous gothic poem 'The Raven' where he makes the personification a little more believable by using a bird which is known to do talking tricks. Sometimes the poet will address the non-human subject with the word 'O' which signifies the fact that he thinks of them as appearing personified.

atyourservice | Student

Personification is when the writer gives human quality to an inanimate  object.

crystaltu001 | Student

To put it simply, personification is when you give a non-moving object or inanimate thing human characteristics. Some examples are included in the following 

  • My wallet was hiding from me. 
  • Her hair flew in the gentle breeze.
  • The leaves on the tree danced fiercely in the harsh wind.
  • The dark clouds cried over the tired civilians.

Personification is when you give an inanimate thing, animated characteristics. For example, 

The book flung him into an alternate reality

Books can usually fling things literally

Another ex.: The waves slapped her bare feet. 

waves don't slap. 

zumba96 | Student

Personification is giving life or living characteristics to an inanimate object. For example this is often found in Disney movie. The Grandmother tree in Pocahontas, or the array of dishes and the entire castle that was alive in Beauty and the Beast. They are often objects that shouldn't talk or be animate but because of this device, they are. "The wind whistled in the night" The wind didn't actually whistle. 

Yojana_Thapa | Student

Personification is when your attributing human characteristics to something nonhuman.

For example: "The Fire ran wild" or "Time flies"

cleisure | Student

Personification is the assignment of human characteristics, personalities, and emotions to an animal or object.  Any number of Disney movies provide good examples of this.  Take for instance "Beauty and the Beast".  The furniture talks, cries, walks, become scared, feels human emotions for the main characters.

Another would be Jungle Book:  All of the animals have human emotions/abilities - talking, laughing, etc.