Definition: Personification is a figure of speech where human qualities are attributed to animals, inanimate objects, or abstract concepts.
As a literary device, personification creates vivid imagery and connects readers or viewers to the subjects in a more relatable, human-like way.
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Examples of personification in everyday speech
Here are a few examples from English:
- “The stars danced playfully in the moonlit sky.”
Here, stars are given the human ability to dance, creating a lively and playful image of the night sky.
- “The ancient car groaned into third gear.”
The old car is personified as groaning, a human sound, which emphasizes its age and the effort it takes to change gears.
- “The fire swallowed the entire forest.”
Fire is personified by the human ability to swallow, suggesting a powerful and destructive consumption of the forest.
- “The ocean heaved a sigh as the storm calmed.”
The ocean is personified as capable of sighing, which gives the natural phenomenon an emotional reaction to the calming of a storm.
- “The city sleeps.”
This phrase personifies the city as a living entity that can sleep, often used to describe the city at night or during quiet and inactivity.
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Examples of Personification from Literature that has been adapted to film
Here are a few examples of personification from classic literature that has later been made into movies:
“The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis:
The character of Aslan in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series is a talking lion who embodies noble human qualities. In “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” we find lines like:
“Aslan is on the move.”– The Beaver
Although Aslan is a lion, he is personified with the capacity for movement that implies purpose and agency, as if he were a human leader rallying his troops.
“The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame:
This novel is filled with personified animals, but it also uses personification to describe elements of nature. For instance:
“The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms.”– Kenneth Grahame
The animals themselves are highly personified throughout the book, which has been adapted into various films and TV shows.
Examples of Personified Characters in Film
Examples of personified characters include talking animals in fables, animated objects in fairy tales, or even representations of ideas or emotions, such as the characters in the movie “Inside Out,” where emotions like Joy and Sadness are depicted as sentient beings.
Here are a few examples from screenplays:
The Brave Little Toaster (1987) – The entire premise of this animated film revolves around personification, with household appliances having their personalities and emotions as they go on a quest to find their owner.
INT. COTTAGE – DAY
The old blanket shivers in the cold, its patchwork squares puffing up like it’s trying to keep warm.The Brave Little Toaster (1987) script
Beauty and the Beast (1991) – The enchanted objects in the Beast’s castle are personified, such as Lumiere the candelabra, Cogsworth the clock, and Mrs. Potts the teapot, all exhibiting human traits and emotions.
INT. BEAST’S CASTLE – NIGHT
Cogsworth’s hands ticked nervously as he paced back and forth, his face showing more worry than any clock should ever express.Beauty and the Beast (1991) script
Cars (2006) – In this animated film, cars are the characters, and they all have human characteristics. They talk, feel, and have relationships with one another.
EXT. RADIATOR SPRINGS – DAY
Lightning McQueen’s engine purrs softly, almost like a cat curling up in the warm sunlight that bathes the sleepy town.Cars (2006) script
WALL-E (2008) – The titular character, WALL-E, is a robot that exhibits human-like curiosity, loneliness, and affection.
EXT. EARTH – DAY
WALL-E gazes at the stars with a longing that seems too deep for a robot’s optics to hold.WALL-E (2008) script
When watching movies or reading screenplays, you can often find personification in how characters interact with their environment or how it is described to reflect human emotions or actions.
The difference between personification and antrophomorism
You may think a personified character sounds similar to an anthropomorphized character. And you’re not wrong.
“Personification” and “anthropomorphism” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they refer to slightly different concepts.
Whereas personification is a literary device where human qualities are given to animals, objects, or ideas, anthropomorphism attributes human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities, including animals, plants, and objects.
Anthropomorphism goes a step further than personification by not only assigning human qualities to non-human things but also often presenting them as having human forms or behaviors.
Anthropomorphism is commonly used in narrative and visual arts, where animals or objects are portrayed as talking, walking, or engaging in complex human-like activities.
A classic example of anthropomorphism would be the characters in the animated film “Zootopia,” where animals take on human roles, wear clothes, and live in a society.
So, while both personification and anthropomorphism involve giving human characteristics to non-humans, personification is more about attributing human-like qualities to things in a metaphorical sense, often in descriptions, while anthropomorphism is about depicting non-human entities as if they were human, both in appearance and behavior, often in storytelling and visual arts.
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