Personification in Of Mice and Men

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  • 0:03 What Is Personification?
  • 1:47 Personification in…
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kayla Beggarly

Kayla has taught secondary English and has a bachelor's degree in English Education.

This lesson will examine the use and significance of the literary technique personification in John Steinbeck's classic 1937 novella, 'Of Mice and Men.'

What Is Personification?

You're sitting on the bench at the bus stop on a particularly rainy, sad day. You look down and see a speck of a green plant peering through the sidewalk as if to say, 'I will make it through somehow.' Logically, you know the plant cannot speak, but somehow the thought of this little plant weathering the storm gives you a glimmer of hope. Despite the pouring rain and your soggy shoes, you look at that plant and smile. Things will get better.

Giving that small plant human-like qualities is a common literary technique known as personification. Personification is a literary technique where objects, animals, and/or ideas are given human-like qualities. Authors use personification as a way to captivate the reader by making an otherwise unlikely idea or scenario more relatable or interesting.

In the 1991 Walt Disney animation, Beauty and the Beast, personification is heavily used for secondary characters. Cogsworth is an uptight talking clock, Lumiere is a romantic talking candelabra, and Mrs. Potts is a motherly talking teapot. Giving each of these characters distinct personalities through the use of personification makes them more likable and relatable to the audience.

The personification of animals is one of the most common forms of this literary technique. In the famous folktale, The Three Little Pigs, the wolf says, 'I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in!' in regards to the homes of the three little pigs. In this story, the reader can see through the use of personification in the wolf's actions and dialogue that he is bad news.

Emily Dickinson, a famous 19th-century poet, describes death in her poem 'Because I could not stop for death.' The lines read:

Because I could not stop for Death-

He kindly stopped for me-

The Carriage held but just Ourselves-

And Immortality.

Here, death is an idea being personified as a kind, male carriage driver.

Personification in Of Mice and Men

Set in California during the Great Depression, this story follows two ranch workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, on their quest for the American Dream: their own patch of land, a farm of their own, and the freedom to be their own boss. Author John Steinbeck uses personification in his classic novella Of Mice and Men to envision the detailed setting of California and to better understand one of the key characters of the novel, Lennie Small.

Steinbeck uses personification in nature when describing the setting in order to paint a more vivid picture for the reader. 'The sycamore leaves whispered in a little night breeze.' While sycamore leaves do not actually possess the ability to whisper, giving this human quality helps the reader envision how the leaves blew quietly in the wind.

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