Anthropomorphism: Definition and Examples

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Anthropomorphism (derives from the Greek ‘anthropos’ “human being,” and ‘morphe’ “shape” or “form”), is the tendency to project human qualities into non-human beings, objects, supernatural phenomenaOpens in new window either consciously or not, or the description of non-material, ‘spiritual’ entities in physical and specifically human form.

Anthropomorphism is frequently used as a literary device in artOpens in new window, literatureOpens in new window, and filmOpens in new window to convey the author’s message through a symbolic animal or object with human qualities. In technologyOpens in new window and scienceOpens in new window, the behavior of machines and computers is sometimes described in terms of human behavior.

The modern science of roboticsOpens in new window, which develops machines to carry out automated tasks or enhance human performance, employs anthropomorphism to engage human beings intellectually and emotionally with machines or computers. — (excerpted from: New World Encyclopaedia’s articles on anthropomorphism.)

Anthropomorphism in Religion

In religionOpens in new window, anthropomorphism is essential in the attribution of humane characteristics, activities, emotions, or feelings to God. The first book of the Hebrew BibleOpens in new window depicts God with qualities and attributes similar to those of human beings. The key text is situated in Genesis 1:27: “God created man around His own image, in the image of God He created him; male or female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

From the perspective of believers of a religion where the deity or deities have human characteristics, it may be more accurate to describe the phenomenon as “theomorphismOpens in new window,” or the giving of divine qualities to humans, instead of anthropomorphism, the giving of human qualities to the divine.

In most belief systemsOpens in new window, the deityOpens in new window or deities existed before humans, and therefore humans were created in the form of the divine. This resemblance implies some kind of kinshipOpens in new window between human beings and God, especially between humanity’s moral being and God.

Anthropomorphism in Rhetoric

In classical rhetoric, personificationOpens in new window is a figure that employs the deliberate use of anthropomorphism, often to make an emotional appeal. In rhetorical theory, a distinction is often drawn between personification (anthropomorphism of inanimate, but real, objects) and tropes such as apostrophe, in which absent people or abstract concepts are addressed.

You might want to compare the following:

An example of rhetorical personification:
  1. A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
    Against the earth's sweet-flowing breast

    — (Joyce Kilmer, Trees)

An example of rhetorical apostrophe:
  1. O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! Sir Walter Raleigh, History of the World
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