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Anthropomorphized Animals: Meaning & Concept

Anthropomorphized Animals: Meaning & Concept
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  • 0:00 Meaning
  • 0:40 Why Do You Anthropomorphize?
  • 1:45 Aesop
  • 3:18 Examples in Adult Literature
  • 6:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

It's natural to assign human characteristics to animals. In this lesson, read about why writers anthropomorphize animals and the effects it has on us humans.

Meaning

The Lion is a coward in The Wizard of Oz. Bambi is sad when his mother dies. Kermit the Frog can talk. And Goofy the dog walks on two legs. From Aesop's fables of the 6th century BC to the three-dimensional animated blockbusters of present day, writers have steadily and often used the literary device anthropomorphism in order to help tell their stories. Anthropomorphized animals have ascribed human traits, emotions and personalities. Animals can walk, talk and act like humans, and it's popular in almost every culture around the world as a storytelling device.

Why Do You Anthropomorphize?

So, why is attributing human characteristics to animals so universal and timeless? The simplest reason is because it makes the unfamiliar appear more familiar to a reader or a spectator. We most often see anthropomorphized animals in children's books, cartoons and animated feature films. It's done to produce a story that looks good and seems less threatening to children.

For example, in real life, bears are big and scary. But when we put a hat on a bear, give him a funny talking voice and make him winningly mischievous, he's just Yogi Bear, who's smarter than the average bear. If we can imagine that Yogi is just like us humans, then he's not threatening or scary. In fact, he's quite lovable.

One of the most popular animated films and Broadway musicals ever is The Lion King. Of course, we'd be scared if we saw a lion in real life. But we can easily identify with Simba. We know that he was wrongly accused in the death of his father. We feel his guilt, insecurity and fear. So when he's grown up and must fight for what is his, King of the Pride, we root for him like we would any character.

Aesop

Anthropomorphized animal tales started all the way back in BC Greece. One of the most well-known storytellers to use animal characters that acted as humans was a slave named Aesop. He was known to be an observer of both human nature and the animal world. He figured out that in order to tell moral tales that had an easy lesson, he could effectively replace humans with animals within the context of the story world. These morality tales with animal characters are called beast fables.

One of Aesop's most popular beast fables, and one that we still tell today, is The Tortoise and the Hare. The story begins with the speedy Hare mocking the slow Tortoise. Because the Tortoise is confident in herself and knows that the Hare is cocky, she challenges the Hare to a race. The Hare accepts thinking the race is won before it even starts.

The Tortoise and the Hare begin the race at the same time. The arrogant Hare decides that he has plenty of time to take a nap and still win the race. On the other hand, the tortoise keeps moving at her own pace. She knows that slow and steady wins the race. By the time the Hare wakes up from his nap, the Tortoise has already crossed the finish line and is taking a celebratory nap of her own.

In the fable, both animals are given human characteristics: They both talk, they're competitive, the Hare is arrogant and the Tortoise is confident. We can learn the moral lesson of the story quite easily using these animals: It doesn't matter if we're better, stronger, smarter or faster, if we underestimate our opponent, we will lose.

Examples in Adult Literature

Anthropomorphized animal tales are not just for children. They are also used for great effect with adults as well.

One of the most popular examples in literature is George Orwell's classic satire, Animal Farm, published in 1945. Orwell was not shy in letting it be known that even though the Russians were on the Allied side in fighting Hitler in WWII, that the world should be very wary of Communism.

So instead of writing a novel with real people, Orwell used pigs to represent Communists. At the beginning of the story, the pigs revolt against the farmer who had mistreated them. They gain total control and vow to run the entire farm fairly. Every animal is promised equality and ample amounts of food.

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