Intersections: Anthropomorphism and Personification (Hallowe’en Edition)

Intersections is a weekly series dedicated to sorting the Hallowe’en candy that is spookily similar literary devices.  

The definition of Hallowe’en fun varies depending on your age. When you’re young, it’s running around with your friends and gorging on candy. When you’re a little older, it’s running around with your friends in identical Scream masks (the ones with fake blood sloshing around inside them). But once you hit high school, Hallowe’en takes on a more subtle kind of fun: the humor of the clever costume.

Sometimes, clever costume ideas are hard to come up with, but looking to rhetorical devices can provide you with inspiration!

Let’s start with anthropomorphism, the act of attributing human characteristics and qualities to animals or other non-human beings. An anthropomorphism-inspired costume is probably the easiest to pull off because of its literal connotations; when you’re anthropomorphizing something, you’re literally bringing it ‘to life,’ that is, making it act or look like a human while still keeping its original physical form.

From BoJack Horseman’s sweater-vest-wearing axolotl, Yolanda, to basically every character in The Brave Little Toaster, there’s a lot of costumes to pick from. Additionally, you could phone it in like Mean Girls’ The Plastics and don mouse ears while asking your friend why she’s dressed “so scary” and still be anthropomorphic just by being at a party or wearing high heels.   

If you’re over the mouse ears, you could try your hand at some personification-inspired costumes. A figure of speech, personification is almost identical to anthropomorphism, except that it isn’t meant to be taken literally; personification’s primary purpose is to create imagery.

For example, you can dress up as a weeping willow, which is so named for its long, overhanging branches that look like streams of tears, not its nonexistent tendency to surrender to fits of sobbing. Be careful you don’t make this costume anthropomorphic by giving your costume tear-filled eyes and a sad disposition! Or by walking around…or blinking.

Still think this is amateur hour? Personification has another definition that wouldn’t even require a physical costume, but mental effort and dedication. Have you ever heard someone accuse another of being “the personification of” something, or something “personified”? This is the kind of personification that has a human or non-human entity embody an abstract concept (something you can’t touch or see, like gluttony and glamour).

Because of their lack of physical existence, these costumes rely almost entirely on your actions! For example, to “dress up” as “gluttony,” insist all the party’s drinks be surrendered for your consumption. Scarf down Rockets and mini Kit Kats until you’re full, and then eat some more. Snatch someone’s half-eaten piece of pizza and devour it right in front of them. Go big or go home.

Of course, these costumes rely on knowledge of what you’re personifying, whether it’s a cat or cattiness, so the more detail you have, the better! Don’t rely on Monty Python to teach you about tigers’ natural habitats. Pick up an issue of National Geographic! Better yet, read some poetry for all the interesting ways brooding writers have twisted the same old concepts of love and death into strange beings and vivid images worthy of that Best Costume prize. Party on!

If you liked this post, check out previous posts in the Intersections series:

Intersections: The Language of Disguise, Part 1

literary devices: euphemism and kennings

Intersections: The Language of Disguise, Part 2

literary devices: metonymy and synecdoche

Intersections: Deus ex Machina

Intersections: Hyperbole

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