What is personification


What is a personification?

The personification is a rhetorical stylistic device. It is a type of metaphor and it is widely used. The term can be derived from Latin (persona = person; ficare = to do) and means Humanization: Animals, plants or the lifeless are endowed with human characteristics or act like humans.

  • "a shy Attempt"
  • "the time runs«
  • "Leaves to dance in the wind"
  • "the sky cries«
  • »Art and Science go hand in hand«

How is a personification formed?

Animals, plants, abstract concepts, natural phenomena or inanimate things are used in literature as acting or speaking people shown. Examples of this can already be found in ancient rhetoric, myth and especially in the literary genre of fables.

  • Goethe depicts time (Chronos) in his poem as "Kronos' brother-in-law".
  • Aesop's fables like "The Fox and the Raven"

A personification can also take the form of Verbs, adjectives, or nouns be expressed. Actions, properties or terms that are known from human interaction are transferred to abstract terms or inanimate things. Personification is a stylistic device, which is easy to discover in texts.

  • "The belief defeated the fear"
  • "Me beckons luck «
  • »blind Anger "
  • "a limping Comparison"
  • »father Country"
  • "a stream eating Fridge"

Effect of personification

The personification can be found in literary works as well as in political speeches. It is also widely used in advertising and everyday speech. By using this style figure, text and language become more lively. This makes it easier for listeners and readers to grasp the content. In addition, the clear design increases interest and ensures that the required attention is paid.

Personification in literature

Personification is a stylistic device of both epic and lyric poetry. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato, the Roman thinker and writer Cicero or the poets in the Middle Ages and Baroque, for example, personified the law ("Justitia") or the fatherland. Animals that are endowed with human reason and language act in fables. The animals embody certain characteristics. The fox, for example, stands for cunning, the lion for strength and power. A famous personification in the poem is "The Girl from Foreign Countries" by Friedrich Schiller, in which he turns art into women.

"Spring lets its blue ribbon
Again fluttering through the air "
Eduard Mörike (1804-1875), "It's him"

»A big sack - the farmer Bolte,
Who wanted to carry him to the mill
Put down to rest
Close to a ripe field of ears,
Lays in dignified folds
And starts making a speech. "
Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908), "The full sack"

Personifications as a caricature

The personification is also used to characterize a nation or to caricature its (supposed) character. Clichéd ideas about the characteristics of a people are summarized in one figure.

  • "German Michel" (Germany)
  • "Uncle Sam" (USA)
  • "John Bull" (Great Britain)

Personification in politics

Political speeches require more than objectivity and focus on facts in order to get the audience's attention. So politicians use the full range of rhetorical stylistic devices so that the lecture shows the desired effect. Personification is one of the rhetorical devices that are found quite often in everyday political life.

“The sparrows Pipes it from the roofs: Today knowledge is the most important resource in our country, which is poor in natural resources. "
Roman Herzog, 1997, Berlin Education Forum

“Yes, the language jumps from official and newspaper German outthat it was wrapped in, and recalls of their emotional words. "
Christa Wolf, 1989, speech on Alexanderplatz in Berlin

Personification in advertising

The advertising works with all rhetorical possibilities of speech design in order to help products to a higher degree of recognition and to increase the recognition value. In advertising language, personifications can be found in catchy slogans.

  • "Citroën - intelligence on wheels" (car manufacturer Citroën)
  • "Because our skin is thirsty for health." (Vichy thermal water)
  • "The day goes by, Johnny Walker is coming." (Johnny Walker Whiskey)
  • "If you love your home, then you will love it too." (Hornbach Baumarkt)
  • "Rennie cleans up the stomach." (Rennie stomach remedy)
  • »We give your future a home.« (LBS)

Personification in everyday life

In everyday language, personifications can also be discovered in many areas. What is striking here is that they are often associated with weather phenomena. This can be explained by the fact that they come from a time when deities were considered to be responsible for phenomena such as lightning or thunder.

  • "The sky Cries."
  • "The sun is laughing."
  • "The wind rattles the door."
  • "Nature awakens."
  • "The storm is raging."
  • "The day says goodbye."

Personification, metaphor and allegory

Personification, metaphor and allegory are related. The personification is regarded as a form of metaphor and also has allegory features (visualization of the abstract). The transitions are often fluid. A clear demarcation of these three style figures is not always easy. When examining the stylistic devices in a text, the personification must always be examined in connection with metaphor and allegory.

Personification and Allegory

An allegory is often an expanded personification. An abstract concept such as a vice, a virtue or death is symbolized as a person through actions, attributes or speech.

»Justitia« stands as an allegory for justice. To create the allegory, one makes use of personification: In Roman mythology, justice is represented as a woman with a blindfold. She is holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other. Law should be pronounced without regard to the person (blindfold). A judgment is the result of careful weighing of the facts (scales) and the necessary hardness (sword).

"Reaper" stands as an allegory for death. The allegory is based on the personification of death. Since the late Middle Ages, death has been depicted as a human skeleton, naked or poorly clad with a shroud. The skeleton looks terrifying. As a farm laborer cuts grass or grain (scythe), so death cuts the thread of human life.

Personification and metaphor

Personification is a kind of metaphor. A metaphor is characterized by the fact that a word is not used in its actual lexical meaning. Rather, it should be understood in a figurative sense. When the personification ascribes human characteristics to the inanimate or animals, another, a metaphorical level of meaning arises. Both style figures can also appear together.

"Fear tightened my throat."

This phrase contains both a metaphor and a personification. The constricted throat is an image for existential need and threat and thus a metaphorical turn. At the same time, the abstract feeling of fear is assigned a human behavior. She "acts" like a person who hurts another.

"Happiness laughs at him."

The sentence says that the person is doing exceptionally well. It is a metaphor, for example, for success at work. At the same time, the actually inanimate and abstract happiness is humanized. The personification finds its expression in "laughter".

Page published on 02/09/2016. Last update on September 3rd, 2020.