How to ...Identify Personification

When You Come Across One in Literature

Understanding literary devices is crucial for unlocking the layers of meaning, subtlety, and artistry within written works, enabling readers to delve deeper into the narratives, appreciate the nuances of language, and engage with literature on a profound level. 

Today, we're uncovering one of the most enchanting figures of speech: personification.


Personification specifically involves attributing human characteristics, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities, objects, or abstract concepts. It makes non-human things or ideas more relatable and vivid through human traits, emotions, or actions. It helps readers connect with and understand these non-human elements on a deeper level.

Example: In the sentence 'Imagine the wind whispering through the trees, as if it's sharing a secret with the leaves,' the wind is personified, as it takes on human-like qualities of whispering and sharing secrets.


To understand where the word 'personification' comes from, let's break it down. It combines 'person,' originating from the Latin persona, with '-ify,' which is derived from the Latin '-ificare.' In Latin, '-ificare' or '-ficere' means 'to make' or 'to do.' So, when you add '-ify' to a word, we transform it into a verb to 'make' or 'do' the action associated with the root word. In the case of 'personify,' it means to make something take on human characteristics, and that's how we arrive at 'personification.'

The concept of personification isn't a recent invention; it has ancient roots deeply embedded in human expression. Imagine this: in ancient Greek and Roman religions, deities were often portrayed with strong elements of personification. These deities had distinct personalities and characteristics, so they weren't just impersonal abstractions. The term "personification" as we use it now is most likely a result of this practise of giving human characteristics to inanimate objects or concepts.

Clio20, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Clio20, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Human Traits: Personified objects or ideas exhibit characteristics typically associated with humans. This might include emotions like joy, anger, or sadness.

Example: 'The raging storm clouds angrily roared overhead.' Here, the storm clouds are personified with the human emotion of anger and the action of roaring.

Intentions: They may appear to have desires or motivations, much like human beings. These intentions drive their actions within the narrative.

Example: 'The morning sun smiled down on the town, hoping to brighten everyone's day.' Here, the sun is personified with the intention of bringing joy.

Symbolic Representation: Personifications often serve as symbols for abstract concepts, virtues, or even natural elements.

Example: 'The scales of justice weigh the evidence carefully.' Here, the scales of justice are personified as if they have the ability to weigh and make decisions, symbolizing the fair and balanced nature of the legal system.


William Wordsworth's I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

In this famous poem, daffodils are personified as "dancing" and "tossing their heads," giving them a sense of joy and liveliness.

Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality."

Death is personified as a polite carriage driver who kindly stops to pick up the speaker, taking her on a journey towards the afterlife.

George Orwell's Animal Farm

The farm animals in this allegorical novel are personifications of different social and political classes, highlighting the complexities of society. Each animal embodies a distinct class, such as the pigs symbolizing the ruling elite, the horses representing the working-class, and the obedient sheep the masses.

Shakespeare's Macbeth

In one of his famous soliloquies, Macbeth personifies time as a "petty pace," emphasizing its slow and relentless progression.

By understanding the definition, origin, and features of personification, you'll be well-equipped to identify this captivating literary device in your readings. Keep an eye out for those non-human entities that suddenly come to life with human qualities, and you'll uncover the hidden layers of meaning within the text. Happy exploring in the world of English literature! Stay lit!

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