People often give outside clues into their inner being. A variety of bright nature-related stickers covering a laptop can tell a specific story about its owner. Maybe they enjoy hiking on the weekend or they grew up taking camping trips with their family. A t-shirt plastered with Harry Styles lyrics likely reveals the type of music this person feels connected to. It might also make a fellow Harry Styles fan feel more connected to the t-shirt wearer. 

Anthropomorphism, which is a literary device that gives human traits to animals or objects, also works to create an emotional connection between a character and a reader or viewer. 

What is Anthropomorphism?

If you saw a drawing of an anthropomorphic dog holding a sparkly magic wand with a smirk, what sort of actions or emotions would you expect from them? Would the answer be different if they had a pair of round glasses and a curly mustache instead? 

Just as humans can perceive certain things about others through body language, clothing, and facial expressions, artists use anthropomorphic techniques to portray certain things about non-human objects through human-like traits. Anthropomorphism can be used to characterize a house plant as high-maintenance by adding rolling eyes, a facemask and maybe some pursed lips. 

To the left a group of animals dressed in waistcoats and jackets mingle outside a brick building. To the right a realistic hare and tortoise move towards the finish line surrounded by flowers and grass.
Still from Skillshare Class The Art of Bunnies in Books by Nina Rycroft
Take a second to examine these two representations of The Tortoise and the Hare. How do you feel about the characters on the left compared to those on the right?

The use of anthropomorphic animals can turn a wild animal into a naughty baby bear by placing a broken honey jar next to him and covering his hands and face with golden nectar. By adding human characteristics to animals, plants, and other objects, readers and viewers are able to relate to them in a more meaningful way. 

They can engage emotionally with a puzzle missing some of its pieces if it has a sad, longing face drawn onto it. Artists can also more easily communicate a story to their viewers by adding props, supporting characters, and facial expressions to simple everyday objects. 

Finding Anthropomorphism in Literature

Even if you weren’t sure what anthropomorphism was until today, you’ve definitely encountered it before. It could have been in the picture books your parents read to you as a child like the bunnies in Goodnight Moon or little Corduroy Bear who’s missing one of his overalls’ buttons. 

A black and white drawing shows White Rabbit examining his pocket watch in a field of grass. The rabbit is dressed in a waistcoat and a checkered jacket, while holding an umbrella.
Still from Skillshare Class The Art of Bunnies in Books by Nina Rycroft
What can you find about this drawing of White Rabbit that makes him feel more human?

But anthropomorphism doesn’t just have to be visual. Authors can utilize anthropomorphism by describing non-human characters and objects with human qualities, ambitions, and emotions. Lewis Carroll does this with the busy White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. C.S Lewis utilizes this technique with multiple animals in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. 

A few other anthropomorphism examples include:

  • Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Giving Tree
  • Sorting Hat in Harry Potter
  • Letters in Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Getting to the Bottom of Anthropomorphism vs Personification

If you’ve already taken an English or literature class, you might be wondering how this narrative technique is different from personification. You’re right in thinking that both attribute human qualities to nonhuman things, but the way they’re carried out is slightly different.

With anthropomorphism, the humanization is literal. It’s a dancing duckling, a sneaky house cat or a sleepy log in the woods. With personification, that humanization is figurative. It’s used to describe leaves dancing in the wind or the sun smiling down on a garden. The leaves don’t have little legs and the sun won’t sport a toothy grin, but their actions are rather being compared to human actions or emotions. 

Finding Anthropomorphism in the World Around You

Anthropomorphism isn’t just found in literature—you will come across it in movies, TV shows, advertisements, apparel and more. Brands like Geico with their famous gecko and the smiling Scrubbing Bubbles brushes use anthropomorphism to connect better with potential customers. 

There is also the culture of cuteness, or Kawaii, in Japan. This culture applies charming and childlike features to non-human objects like animals and food. A smiling boba tea and a sparkly-eyed taco instantly become more adorable and desirable with anthropomorphism. 

Adding Anthropomorphism to Your Work

Anthropomorphism, whether written or visual, allows readers and viewers to relate to ideas and characters in a more meaningful way. In your own work, you can play around with the various degrees of anthropomorphism by trying to give your illustrations a narrative in different ways. 

Anthropomorphism comes down to communicating a story and creating an emotional connection between characters and the audience. Test out funny facial expressions and bubbly body language to see how your characters would interact with the world around them.

The Basics of Writing Better Characters

Writing Authentic Fiction: How to Build a Believable Character

Written By

Calli Zarpas

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