Definition of Zoomorphism

Zoomorphism is a derivative of a Greek word zōon that means animal and morphē means form or shape. It is a literary technique in which the animal attributes are imposed upon non-animal objects, humans, and events and animal features are ascribed to humans, gods and other objects. Like in this instance, “A couple of customers that had been heading for my slot began to knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute” (A&P by John Updike). Here pigs are meant to be intelligent animals and have been used as a simile to show how people were behaving.

Opposite of Anthropomorphism

Zoomorphism means assigning a person, event or a deity with characteristics which are animalistic while anthropomorphism is ascribing human qualities to other objects, animals and inhuman creatures in order to give an insight into their functions.

Examples of Zoomorphism from Literature

One can find zoomorphism examples in literary pieces written during the time of Romans and ancient Greeks. However, modern literature has used it extensively as well.

Example #1

“The two sisters got down, big, bovine, in a flutter of cheap ribbons; one of them drew from the jumbled wagon bed a battered lantern, the other a worn broom. His father handed the reins to the older son and began to climb stiffly over the wheels…. There was something about his wolf-like independence and even courage when the advantage was at least neutral which impressed strangers, as if they got from his latent ravening ferocity not so much a sense of dependability, as a feeling that his ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions would be of advantage to all whose interest lay with his….”

(Barn Burning by William Faulkner)

Bovines are cows. They are perceived often as slow, stupid and lazy animals who do not question their master. On the other hand, wolves are ferocious predators. In the above excerpt, the girls are represented as cows – lack independence and follow their father without questioning- while the father is compared to a wolf -who has “ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions”.

Example #2

“You never know for sure how girls’ minds work (do you really think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?) but you got the idea she had talked the other two into coming in here with here, and now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight….. The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle – the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything) – were pretty hilarious…”

(A&P by John Updike)

In this case, the buzzing like a bee is supposed to imply that there is really nothing important in the girls’ minds. While the customers are compared to sheep who wander in groups mindlessly down the aisles.

Example #3

“In the shadow of Your wings I used to rejoice…..If I take the wings of dawn, and settle in the remotest part of the sea….”

(from The Bible)

Here, God is represented as a bird. The bird’s/God’s wings are compared to the comfort and shelter that God gives to His people.

Example #4

“I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream…”

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare)

This excerpt is the speech of Bottom in the play, who had a dream in which he was an ass-headed monster adored by gorgeous fairy queen. He describes that humans cannot comprehend his dream; it is beyond their approach.

Function of Zoomorphism

Zoomorphism is a literary technique. Examples of zoomorphism are often found in short stories (used to effectively provide detailed descriptions about the characters in stories). Records show that it has been used as a literary device since the times of the ancient Romans and Greeks. It is a very helpful tool for the effective description of different characters. The purpose of using this technique is to create a figurative language and provide a comparison.

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