Posts tagged ‘personification’

December 3rd, 2012

Literature Revealed: Personification

by Madeleine Rex

“You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have—arm yourselves!”

This year, in AP Literature and Composition, I’ve been assigned a remarkably difficult weekly task. I must turn in two analyses of literary terms within literature we are reading for class, explaining the context, affect, and relation to the story as a whole. Because these are taking up the time I would otherwise spend blogging, I figure I can post them here in case anyone finds them remotely interesting. Personally, I love this assignment. It’s ridiculously tedious and never-ending, but the critical thinking involved is so much fun.

Most of my terms are from William Shakepeare’s Hamlet and E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.

P.S. WARNING: SPOILERS

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Personification: Attributing human qualities or actions to an inhuman object or idea.

Example:

“O, heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.
Let me be cruel, not unnatural;
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites–
How in my words somever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent”
(III.iii. (346-352)!

Function: Hamlet has been beckoned to his mother’s room after the King’s reaction to his clever play. Hamlet’s suspicions have been verified by his and Horatio’s observance of the King – the Ghost most certainly spoke the truth. All that is left is to follow through with his oath to kill Claudius. Due to the astounding events of the evening, Hamlet is feeling rather on edge as he answers his mother’s call, and thus pleads with himself, uttering the passage above. In this passage, he addresses his heart, commanding it to “lose not [its] nature,” or to remain loving. He makes a reference to the Roman emperor, Nero, who killed his own mother, and says he hopes to not do the same. Personification comes into play in lines 349 and 350, in which Hamlet says he will speak harshly, but not act so, stating, “My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites.” “Hypocrite” is a term used to describe people whose actions or words contradict what they did or said previously. In this instance, Hamlet applies a human attribute (hypocrisy) to objects, the tongue and the soul. Hamlet is emphasizing that, though he will say cruel things, he will not act cruel. Similarly, in line 353, he tells his soul to never consent (allow) harsh action toward his mother. This entire passage is an internal plea of Hamlet’s to keep himself from losing control with his mother and harming her beyond what is necessary to accomplish what he must – avenging his father’s murder. In a sense, he is successful – he does not physically harm his mother, but she exclaims, “O, speak to me no more! / These words like daggers enter my ears” (III.iv. 98-99). However, through a cruel chain of events, his actions toward others eventually result in his mother’s death. In his effort to kill Claudius, he behaves as a madman, eventually earning Claudius’s suspicion, and Claudius commands Laertes to challenge Hamlet to a fencing match with a poisoned sword. In case of Hamlet’s victory, the king prepares a cup of wine, also laced with poison. During the chaos of the match, the Queen unsuspectingly sips from this poisoned cup and is killed. Hamlet’s actions, though not meant to kill his mother, culminate in her death and the deaths of many others. Incidentally, Hamlet’s actions are not the only to lead to unforeseen and unfortunate events. Polonius’s spying leads to his death (when Hamlet kills him in Act III), Claudius is killed just as he hoped to kill Hamlet – and with the poison he used to kill his brother, Laertes is killed in the fencing match meant to kill Hamlet, and Hamlet’s apparent madness leads to Ophelia’s actual madness and suicide. It seems that, no matter what the intention of a character’s seemingly small devious action, it soon goes awry, often coming back to hurt them.