How to Write an Anthropomorphism
If you want to include a few sentence-level anthropomorphisms in your writing, here are some examples of normal sentences that have been converted into anthropomorphism. Notice that the analogies all have comparing language, while metaphors do not. In each case, a general behavior is being described as a human behavior, such as buying or shrieking.
Normal Sentence: We feed our pets in exchange for their affection.
With Anthropomorphic Metaphor: Our pets buy their food with affection.
With Anthropomorphic Analogy: It’s as if our pets buy their food with affection.
Normal Sentence: The rusted hinges made an unpleasant sound as the door opened.
With Anthropomorphic Metaphor: The rusted hinges shrieked in protest as the door opened.
With Anthropomorphic Analogy: The rusted hinges made a sound like a shriek as the door opened.
When to use Anthropomorphism
When to use anthropomorphism depends on which type of anthropomorphism you’re using:
Because it’s so common in cartoons and children’s stories, literal anthropomorphism can create a whimsical or childish feel to your work – that’s fine if the genre is fantasy, science fiction, or children’s literature, but it’s less effective in realistic fiction. Obviously, in a formal essay there is no reason to use literal anthropomorphism.
This is a powerful literary technique that is used frequently in creative writing. The examples in §5 show why – they allow us to use rich, sensory language that makes the descriptions leap off the page. Personification is always welcome in creative writing (although, like any other literary technique, it is possible to overdo it!) It’s fine to use a little personification in formal essays as well, but be careful – like any metaphor, it shouldn’t be taken too far in an essay, since the goal of essays is to be direct and make your point straightforwardly.
Analogies can be very helpful in formal essays, especially when you need to make an abstract argument more concrete. As we saw in §3, for example, you can use anthropomorphism to describe the parts of an organization. This will help readers get an intuitive grasp on what you’re saying. Be careful, though: you want to use the analogy to explain the arguments, not distort the arguments so that they fit the analogy!
Symbolic anthropomorphism belongs primarily to mythology, so it shouldn’t go into your writing unless you’re trying to create a “mythic” voice. Of course, sometimes that’s exactly what you want to do! During the American Revolution, for example, it was common to hear people speak of Liberty and Justice as anthropomorphic symbols (e.g. “Liberty will shine her torch across the world!”) This style of writing, however, is somewhat archaic and a little overblown, so it’s probably best not to imitate it except in a humorous or historical way.