Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of anthropomorphism?

The definition of anthropomorphism is a literary device that attributes human characteristics to nonhuman entities, such as animals, concepts, or phenomena.


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Anthropomorphism is when human characteristics are given to animals, objects, or gods. Though anthropomorphism sounds similar to personification, there is actually a distinction between these two terms. In personification, the non-human being/object is described using human characteristics, but the reader understands that it does not really possess them. For example, in the line “the trees peeked over the rooftop,” we understand that the trees are not actually looking furtively over the roof and that this description serves to create imagery. With anthropomorphism, the non-human beings are truly taking on human characteristics (ex: the talking animals in Animal Farm and Charlotte’s Web).

Correct example:

  • “The house tried to save itself. Doors sprang tightly shut, but the windows were broken by the heat and the wind blew and sucked upon the fire.”
  • Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” features an anthropomorphic house that is programmed to perform many human-like functions. The house literally does cook dinner, speak aloud, and attempt to fight off the fire that eventually engulfs it.

Incorrect example:

  • “The barking dog berated his owner for taking too long.”
  • This is an example of personification since we understand that the dog isn’t literally criticizing his owner.

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