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figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstract ideas are endowed with human qualities, e.g., allegorical morality plays where characters include Good Deeds, Beauty, and Death. John Ruskin termed sentimentalized, exaggerated personification the "pathetic fallacy." See also allegoryallegory,
in literature, symbolic story that serves as a disguised representation for meanings other than those indicated on the surface. The characters in an allegory often have no individual personality, but are embodiments of moral qualities and other abstractions.
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; apostropheapostrophe,
figure of speech in which an absent person, a personified inanimate being, or an abstraction is addressed as though present. The term is derived from a Greek word meaning "a turning away," and this sense is maintained when a narrative or dramatic thread is broken in
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; metonymymetonymy
, figure of speech in which an attribute of a thing or something closely related to it is substituted for the thing itself. Thus, "sweat" can mean "hard labor," and "Capitol Hill" represents the U.S. Congress.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(prosopopoeia), a form of metaphor that attributes human traits or traits of any living being to inanimate objects and phenomena. Three gradations of personification are distinguished, depending on how it is used in literary language.

(1) Personification can be a figure of speech found in expressive language, connected with “the instinct for personification in living languages” (A. Beletskii) and with the rhetorical tradition, for example: “the heart speaks,” “the river plays.”

(2) Personification in folk poetry and in individual lyric poems (examples are those of H. Heine and S. Esenin) can be a metaphor close in its role to psychological parallelism: the life of the surrounding world, especially of nature, is made to share in the hero’s inner life and is endowed with human attributes. The comparison of the natural to the human on which such personifications are based goes back to a way of thinking found in myths and fairy tales, with the important difference that in mythology the “face” of an element is revealed through “kinship” with the human world. For example, the relationship between Uranus, the Sky, and Gaea, the Earth, is explained by comparing it to a marriage. In folkloric and poetical works of later eras, on the other hand, the “face” and inner feelings of man are revealed through the personified manifestations of nature and the elements.

(3) Personification can be a symbol directly connected with a central literary concept and developing from a system of individual personifications. For example, the poetic prose of A. P. Chekhov’s novella The Steppe is permeated with personifications as metaphors or similes: the “handsome” poplar is oppressed by its solitude, the withered grass “sings” a mournful song, and so on. Thus the resulting ultimate personification is the “face” of the steppe that is aware of the vain loss of its riches, heroism, and inspiration. This “face” is a polysemantic symbol connected with the writer’s thoughts about his native land, life’s meaning, and the flight of time. This type of personification approaches myth in its generalized meaning, “objectivity,” and relative dissociation from the narrator’s psychological state yet does not cross the theoretical line that always separates conventional forms of art from mythology.


Beletskii, A. “Izobrazhenie zhivoi i mertvoi prirody.” In his book Izbrannye trudy po teorii literatury. Moscow, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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