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When a writer or speaker engages in personification, he attributes human qualities to non-human things. This is often done, for example, with animals: one may speak of them as if they had human thoughts and feelings, when in fact they would not be literally capable of such a thing. One of the main effects of personification is that it gives the personified object a sense of rather and emotive sense of aliveness. 

What is personifcation?

Personification is a figure of speech which gives a thing, an idea, or an animal one or more human attributes. This literary device allows non-human objects act or behave in a human manner. The purpose of personification is to help human relate the actions of animate or inanimate objects, concepts, and things to our own range of emotions, making them easier for us to understand and interpret. This attribution of personal qualities helps us identity with the reasons for natural processes and the actions of other living and non-living things. The world's first known use was circa 1755.

Personification examples

Personification is very common literary device, and can be found in many literature works. Author George Orwell used personification in his work, Animal Farm, where he constructed a novella that was meant to be a satirical allegory to the rise and fall of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. Shakespeare also used personification in his plays and works. He centered on natural beauty or the appreciation of it. Following are some examples.

“The woods are getting ready to sleep – they are not yet asleep but they are disrobing and are having all sorts of little bed-time conferences and whisperings and good-nights.” This quote is from The Green Gables Letter from L M Montgomery to Eptheram Webber 1905-1909 by Wilfried Eggleston. Montgomery was the famous author of the Anne of Green Gables book series, published primarily in the 1900s. Trees do not sleep, and certainly do not undress or speak to each other. And yet, L.M. Montgomery’s description makes it seem possible that the coming of autumn to the woods is similar to children getting ready for bedtime.

This example is from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: 

“Stars, hide your fires! Let not light see my black and deep desires.”

Personification used in literature

William Shakespeare was exceedingly fond of personification, and it is interlaced with descriptive passages throughout his works; particularly in relation to nature and human nature.

Here are some more examples from his works:

“The will of man is by his reason sway’d; 

And reason says you are the worthier maid.”

This quote is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play centered on the lives of fairies and how they interweave with those of men and women on the eve of Midsummer.

“Love can transpose to form and dignity:

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;

And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.”

Personification is common in children’s literature, as children find it easier to relate to characters who are more like themselves. In Dr. Suess’ famous children’s books, for instance, the character Horton is an elephant who often walks upright like a man, and has numerous other human characteristics. In Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, the tree is given human characteristics, as exemplified in the following quote: “Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”

Death is a concept that is commonly personified in literature. The following quote is from Emily Dickenson’s famous poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”:

“Because I could not stop for Death – 

He kindly stopped for me.”

Here is a final example in prose form:

“The rivulet from the bathtub faucet snuck rapidly beneath the bathroom door, growing with each passing minute in strength and width, seeking escape from its prison of pipes inside the old Victorian house.” 

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