The literary device has at its root in two Greek words meaning “human” and “form.” It was first used in the mid-1700s to point out instances of heresy as Christians depicted God in human form. Anthropomorphism is a kind of personification, but they are so similar that they are often used interchangeably. Personification is used to create powerful images, and as mentioned above, anthropomorphism is used to make inanimate objects, forces and animals appear to actually be human beings.
Some of the most obvious examples of this literary device come from children’s literature and entertainment, such as The Lion King and Winnie the Pooh. But it can be used in a much more harrowing way, such as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Examples of Anthropomorphism in Literature
Example #1 Animal Farm by George Orwell
One great example within literature is Animal Farm, George Orwell’s classic novel. The novel is satirical in nature, making broad and penetrating statements about human nature through animal characters. These animals, pigs, and other farm-related creatures fall in line behind a pig named Old Major. He uses communist language associated with Karl Marx to convince them to overthrow the humans who run the far. Take a look at these lines from the story:
Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever. Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits.
He continues on, adding that man remains the “lord of all animals” although he contributes nothing. He sets creates to work but does nothing to repay them. Old Major speaks and thinks like he human, he talks, persuades, and rouses the other animals around him. But, even more, like a human being, once the humans have been overthrown he and the other pigs become just as cruel as human beings were.
Example #2 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling.
This novel, which is one of the most popular contemporary works of fiction in circulation today has a series of anthropomorphized creatures within it. These include Aragog the giant spider A close companion of the character Hagrid, the spider lives in the forest with his many brethren. Here are a few lines from an interaction between Harry and Aragog:
Harry: Well…thank you. We’ll just go.
Aragog: Go? I think not. My sons and daughters do not harm Hagrid on my command, but I cannot deny them fresh meat when it wanders so willingly into our midst. Goodbye, friend of Hagrid
He speaks, as a human does, convinces the other creatures to act according to his will, and threatens, with words and actions, those who come upon him. But, he also loves Hagrid. He shows a range of emotions that make him seem even more human.
Example #3 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
This novel contains several very memorable examples of anthropomorphization. These include the Cheshire Cat and the caterpillar. The former, recognized for his wide and mischievous grin, is one of the most iconic images from the book and film adaptations. The character existed before Carroll used it, but it is now best-known from his novel. The cat raises philosophical questions and points that baffle Alice. he makes comments that surprise and amuse. Consider this interaction between Alice and the Chesire Cat while they’re speaking about madness:
“To begin with,” said the Cat, “a dog’s not mad. You grant that?” […] “Well then,” the Cat went on, “you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags it’s tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.”
The caterpillar, another character from the 1865 book, is seen smoking hookah. He measures three inches tall and is fairly distasteful to Alice when they first meet. He has a human face and the body and legs of a caterpillar.