Patrick Cox, H-NET President-Elect and Editor's picture

Hiya folks,

I'm doing research on anthropomorphism in literature and thought this might be a good place to ask some questions. My research is really about anthropomorphic machinery, but I thought H-Nilas folks might know a thing or two about anthropomorphic reps of nature (flora or fauna) that may be useful.

It's my sense that most analysis of anthropomorphic machineery considers the effect of humanizing machine and not the effect of mechanizing the human (which is what I'm interested in). Does anyone know of similiar lines in the study of anthropomorphic nature? Are we more interested in humanizing the animal, tree, etc, or in some kind "naturalizing" of the human?

Also, I'm a bit hung up on Onno Oerlemans "A Defense of Anthropomorphism" in which he writes, “Contemporary forms of anthropomorphism are frequently taken to suggest a lack of seriousness. It is what children do, or what we do for children. Talking animals are now primarily the realm of Disney, of easy sentiment and willed escape from the affairs of humans, or even of a barely suppressed misanthropy. In literature, as Ursula Le Guin rightly notes in the introduction to her collection of stories about talking animals, anthropomorphism has largely been relegated to writing for children, which is itself relegated to the realm of the un-serious.” Are Oerlemans and Le Guin right? From what I know of legend, the anthropomoprhic animal is used very much as part of adult lessons. Am I off?


Patrick Cox

Categories: Query

How about "Little Shop of Horrors"? There's an anthropomorphized plant for you.

Mark Twain's short story "What Stumped the Bluejays" achieves its humor through anthropomorphism. "...whatever a bluejay feels, he can put into language. And no mere commonplace language, either, but rattling, out-and-out book-talk - and bristling with metaphor, too - just bristling! And as for command of language - why you never see a bluejay get stuck for a word. ... and there's no bird, or cow, or anything that uses as good grammar as a bluejay. You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does - but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use. Now I've never heard a jay use bad grammar but very seldom; and when they do they are as ashamed as a human; they shut right down and leave." Twain doesn't just talk about language. The story goes on to spell out emotions and behaviors that prove "a jay is everything that a man is."