“Famine stalked the city, mocking the festoons of bright lights in the windows of newly opened confectionery shops” Suzanne Rosenberg, A Soviet Odyssey.
Personification is a great tactic, which can be engaged by the writer, bringing to life a concept or an inanimate object. The writer uses the concept as if the subject were human, in a way that dramatically expresses the intended point. In Rosenberg’s case to highlight great poverty in the midst of wealth, to show famine as a clear enemy, to personalise the concept and demonstrate the great differences she had witnessed. It personalises the menace of famine.
Concepts or Inanimate Objects
Personification is defined as “the attribution of human nature or character to animals, inanimate objects, or abstract notions, especially as a rhetorical figure.” There are plenty of TV programmes that personify animals, so this element need not be discussed further, yet personification is not well understood in respect of general non-fiction writing.
One of the challenges of writing about either inanimate objects or concepts is that they can be seen as irrelevant or perhaps too remote from the reader’s life. The writer has to adopt different techniques to stress the importance of the subject under discussion. Here are a few examples:
- Stars dance playfully in the moonlit sky.
- The run down house appeared depressed.
- The wind howled its mighty objection.
- She did not realize that opportunity was knocking at her door.
The stars dancing in the sky is clearly a metaphor, especially as it is most often the movement of the person that causes the effect, but the concept of dancing in the sky brings the stars closer to the reader in some way, provides a concept they can imagine. The house appearing depressed is certainly the type of wording that can be used by a blogger, especially if they are discussing home improvement or flipping
“This literary device helps us relate actions of inanimate objects to our own emotions.” We all know that people pay more attention to other people because they cause us to react with emotion to what they may say. We may hate them, we may love them but we are rarely indifferent to them. Personification is not merely used to make writing more decorative but to give a deeper meaning to what is being said by the writer. It can make the words more vivid and give them a human perspective.
Poets, for example, use personification to bring inanimate things to life, for example making the night sky seem romantic.
This special metaphor helps a fictional reader understand what is being said more effectively, perhaps painting a picture. e.g. The castle was like a giant ogre, menacing to the enemy, but a gentle giant protecting those in its shadow.
Most non-fiction writers will be using personification rhetorically in order to demonstrate ideas and how they should function. It should mean writers make ideas dance off the page and move through each of the options available.
Using rhetoric is about using language to explain ideas or concepts, new or old. It is about effective use of language, using prose, being persuasive, influencing the thoughts or conduct of another person. Personification should add a dimension to your argument, e.g. show with clarity why something must happen:
- Justice should act blindly but sadly, at times, it is deaf.
- Change is rare because weak leadership plagues our society.
- Any trust I had for him walked right out the door at that moment.
Non-fiction writers need to use every device available to them in order to depict their stories. Personification can be used to bring some life into those subjects that can be seen as dry and boring. Just because a writer is describing factual events or ideas doesn’t mean the writing cannot be expressive or interesting.
Recent related works
- Intrigue: Thought: What will You be Writing Next?
- Writing and Editing: Do you Read it Aloud?
- First Time Writer – “I want to know if I can write”
- Separated by a Common Language?