It’s natural to assign human characteristics to animals. In this lesson, read about why writers anthropomorphize animals and the effects it has on us humans.
The Lion is a coward in The Wizard of Oz. Bambi is sad when his mother dies. Kermit the Frog can talk.
And Goofy the dog walks on two legs. From Aesop’s fables of the 6th century BC to the three-dimensional animated blockbusters of present day, writers have steadily and often used the literary device anthropomorphism in order to help tell their stories. Anthropomorphized animals have ascribed human traits, emotions and personalities. Animals can walk, talk and act like humans, and it’s popular in almost every culture around the world as a storytelling device.
Why Do You Anthropomorphize?
So, why is attributing human characteristics to animals so universal and timeless? The simplest reason is because it makes the unfamiliar appear more familiar to a reader or a spectator.
We most often see anthropomorphized animals in children’s books, cartoons and animated feature films. It’s done to produce a story that looks good and seems less threatening to children.For example, in real life, bears are big and scary.
But when we put a hat on a bear, give him a funny talking voice and make him winningly mischievous, he’s just Yogi Bear, who’s smarter than the average bear. If we can imagine that Yogi is just like us humans, then he’s not threatening or scary. In fact, he’s quite lovable.One of the most popular animated films and Broadway musicals ever is The Lion King. Of course, we’d be scared if we saw a lion in real life. But we can easily identify with Simba. We know that he was wrongly accused in the death of his father.
We feel his guilt, insecurity and fear. So when he’s grown up and must fight for what is his, King of the Pride, we root for him like we would any character.
Anthropomorphized animal tales started all the way back in BC Greece. One of the most well-known storytellers to use animal characters that acted as humans was a slave named Aesop. He was known to be an observer of both human nature and the animal world. He figured out that in order to tell moral tales that had an easy lesson, he could effectively replace humans with animals within the context of the story world.
These morality tales with animal characters are called beast fables.One of Aesop’s most popular beast fables, and one that we still tell today, is The Tortoise and the Hare. The story begins with the speedy Hare mocking the slow Tortoise.
Because the Tortoise is confident in herself and knows that the Hare is cocky, she challenges the Hare to a race. The Hare accepts thinking the race is won before it even starts.The Tortoise and the Hare begin the race at the same time. The arrogant Hare decides that he has plenty of time to take a nap and still win the race.
On the other hand, the tortoise keeps moving at her own pace. She knows that slow and steady wins the race. By the time the Hare wakes up from his nap, the Tortoise has already crossed the finish line and is taking a celebratory nap of her own.In the fable, both animals are given human characteristics: They both talk, they’re competitive, the Hare is arrogant and the Tortoise is confident. We can learn the moral lesson of the story quite easily using these animals: It doesn’t matter if we’re better, stronger, smarter or faster, if we underestimate our opponent, we will lose.
Examples in Adult Literature
Anthropomorphized animal tales are not just for children. They are also used for great effect with adults as well.One of the most popular examples in literature is George Orwell’s classic satire, Animal Farm, published in 1945. Orwell was not shy in letting it be known that even though the Russians were on the Allied side in fighting Hitler in WWII, that the world should be very wary of Communism.So instead of writing a novel with real people, Orwell used pigs to represent Communists. At the beginning of the story, the pigs revolt against the farmer who had mistreated them.
They gain total control and vow to run the entire farm fairly. Every animal is promised equality and ample amounts of food.However, in just a short period of time, some of the pigs get carried away. Orwell wanted to comment on how power turns to greed and how even the once oppressed can very easily turn into the oppressor. The pigs become dictators, while life on the farm for many of the animals becomes worse than ever. And in the end, the pigs start to have human characteristics.
They walk on two legs and their faces begin to morph into a human shape.Mark Twain’s short story A Dog’s Tale was first published in 1903. It’s the story of a house dog named Aileen Mavourneen. The tale is told entirely from the dog’s point of view.
When we normally think of Mark Twain, we think of his great humor and wit, even his lack of sentimentality. However, Twain shows off his heart in A Dog’s Tale. His goal for the story was to condemn bad human behavior towards animals, especially the practice of experimenting on unanesthetized animals.In the beginning of the story, the protagonist dog Aileen is taken away from her mother, a sad event which she doesn’t understand. Aileen moves in with her new human family, who turn out to be extremely loving and caring. The patriarch, Mr.
Gray, is a scientist. Alieen doesn’t quite get what that means, but she’s happy in the home. She soon gives birth to a puppy and her life instantly changes, just as any loving mother’s life would after the arrival of a newborn.One day, Aileen plays the role of hero by saving the Grays’ baby from a fire by dragging the child to safety. Mr. Gray sees Aileen dragging the baby but doesn’t yet know about the fire.
He severely beats the dog and Aileen doesn’t understand what she did wrong. However, soon the family realizes what really happened and praises the dog by lavishing it with copious amounts of affection.The irony of the story soon rears its ugly head when Mr. Gray kills Aileen’s puppy in a cruel scientific experiment. So even though Aileen saved Mr.
Gray’s baby, he still kills her puppy. Aileen is beyond distraught and the reader gets a sense that there will be no end to her grief.In the story, the dog feels shame, grief, fear, despondency, happiness and what it feels like to be both loved and betrayed. Aileen doesn’t always understand what’s going on around her, but the reader knows what Aileen doesn’t, and we sympathize with her because she does experience so many human emotions that we can relate to, even though she’s just a dog.
Storytellers have given animals human traits and emotions for thousands of years. It provides writers an easy way to make the unfamiliar seem more familiar.
Anthropomorphized animal tales may have started in Ancient Greece, but they are still used in modern narratives today in both children and adult stories.