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What Is the Difference between Personification and Metaphor?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
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The difference between personification and metaphor is that personification is a type of metaphor. This means that metaphor is a larger term encompassing many smaller ideas. In personification, an inanimate object or animal is given human characteristics. A metaphor, meanwhile, replaces a person, object or story with another. Both forms are literary devices rarely used in everyday speech.

In personification and metaphor, an abstract thought is represented in a more human form. This is purely a literary device found in poetry, fiction and sometimes non-fiction. It is rarely found in rhetoric or discourse. Personification can also be used in art.

If animals can also be given human characteristics, then many films and cartoons are also types of personification and metaphor. The “Toy Story” cartoons give toys, both humanoid and non-humanoid in shape, human characteristics and lives. In the cartoon “Cars,” the same occurs with automobiles. These ideas stretch back to films like “The Love Bug” about Herbie a beetle car and to old Walt Disney and Warner Brothers’ cartoons like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny.

In literature and poetry personification and metaphor are used to give additional detail. Pure metaphors differ because they tell a narrative while personifications, like symbols, provide additional details instead. There are many examples of basic personifications in literature, such as having “roaring wind” or “shy flowers.”

John Milton used personification in his “Paradise Lost.” Robert Frost, an American poet, was also a big user of personification and metaphor. William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” gives a good example of the use of personification in drama: “The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb; what is her burying grave that is her womb.” Theodore Roethke’s “Root Cellar” also provides an example with “even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.”

Personification and metaphor can also be used in art and photography. There are two ways to represent this. The first is to give animals and objects more human-like characteristics. The other way is to photograph or paint objects that naturally have, as far as viewers see it, human characteristics. These can include making changes to fruit and vegetables to make them look more like human faces.

The augmentation of animal and objects to give them human characteristics is also used in advertising. This could be done by insinuating hair or cars prefer one product or one type of product over another. This idea could be extended to have milk preferring a certain type of cookie, for example. Other adverts ask personification questions such as “What do your clothes say about you?” or insist the object is more than it appears.

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Discussion Comments

By bear78 — On Mar 21, 2014

Does anyone remember the hookah smoking caterpillar from "Alice in Wonderland?" That's a great example of personification. The caterpillar talks and smokes hookah as though he's a human. The funny part is that he is still a caterpillar because eventually he turns into a butterfly in the story.

Ratatouille, the animation film also has a personified character, a rat who loves cooking and works as a chef at a high-end Parisian restaurant. Again in this story, the animal had human like characteristics but still maintained characteristics of an animal. I guess that's a common trend in personification.

By ddljohn — On Mar 21, 2014

@SteamLouis-- There are many examples of metaphors, for example "wooden face," where the lack of expression of a face is likened to wood. Another example is "I work for peanuts," meaning I make little money. Yet another example is "you have nothing to lose but your shackles," where lack of freedom is referred to as a shackle. Basically every time a word is used for another word without a connector such as "like" it's a metaphor.

By SteamLouis — On Mar 20, 2014

Can anyone give me some examples of metaphors?

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