Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, actions, or emotions to an animal, object, or nonhuman being.

History of Anthropomorphism

The term “anthropomorphism” is derived from the Greek word anthrōpomorphos meaning “having human form or qualities.” Distinct from personification, anthropomorphism does not rely upon figurative language to provide humanistic attributes in a metaphorical or representative way.

Instead, anthropomorphism is used to display literal human traits and attributes of human behavior to animals, objects, or supernatural things incapable of having such characteristics. For instance, Donald Duck, as well as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, are anthropomorphic examples where a duck and two mice live their lives in a humanistic way and display human emotions.

Other well-known classic examples of anthropomorphism in literature include Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve’s novel Beauty and the Beast (1740), Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915), George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm (1945), and J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy series (1954).

Examples of Anthropomorphism in Poetry

Homer uses anthropomorphism in his epic poems Odyssey and The Iliad by assigning human qualities and tendencies to the Greek gods. An example of this would be the affair that unfolds between Aphrodite and Ares. Another example is “Bright Star” by John Keats where the star’s watchfulness is admired in his sonnet:

          Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
             Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
          And watching, with eternal lids apart,
             Like Nature's patient sleepless Eremite…

Other historical examples include “Verse for a Certain Dog” by Dorothy Parker, “Niobe” by Henrietta Cordelia Ray, “Endymion” by Oscar Wilde, and “Amores (IX)” by E. E. Cummings.

More contemporary examples of anthropomorphism include “[The whale already]” by Kimiko Hahn,  and “The Viole(n)t Cat” by Dan Taulapapa McMullin.