Pathetic Fallacy in Literature: Definition & Examples - UK Essay Writers Blog

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Pathetic Fallacy in Literature: Definition & Examples

A very interesting figure of speech is when human characteristics are given to non-human objects. The result is a catchy and emotional phrase, also known as Pathetic Fallacy. Curiously, here pathetic does not have a negative intonation as would be assumed. It defers from personification in the way that a non-living object is compared to a living one whereas here the non-human object is given human emotions.

An excellent example of pathetic fallacy in which the human emotion of, for example, weeping is given to non-human object “weeping willow”. Of course, the tree is not full of tears but its branches fall in a way that makes it seem to us as if it were weeping. This is a different kind of personification where non-human objects are described as having human characteristics. Generally, this figure of speech is only used to attribute human characteristics with nature, for example, trees, animals, weather, etc.

Don’t mix up Pathetic Fallacy with Personification

It is easy to confuse pathetic fallacy with personification because they are similar; however, they are different in their function. Where personification allows human characteristics to inanimate objects, pathetic fallacy lets non-human objects have human emotions.

For example, the moon played hide and seek, is a personification.

The miserable dog searched for food is an example of pathetic fallacy. Miserable being a human characteristic unlikely to be experienced by a dog.

Pathetic fallacy is used in sentences to add depth and more meaning to the description, much like any metaphor. Used perfectly and at the right time, it makes the sentence richer and interesting. However, just be sure not to overstretch it for it will lose its flavour.  

Sometimes, pathetic fallacy is used in different subjects. When it is used in science, it could lead to misconceptions. For example, the attraction between opposite poles or charges in science is the attraction by forces and not by the human emotion of sentiments. So while using pathetic fallacy, one needs to be careful and precise.

Significance of Pathetic Fallacy in Literature

Poets have always tried to attribute human emotions of love, sorrow, and affection with non-human objects like the moon, the clouds, the flowers, or a pet. They have the expertise in their literature to make the reader feel the deep meaning and the poets own feelings behind their comparing non-human objects with human emotions.

Examples of Pathetic Fallacy in Literature

Example #1.  Macbeth

Macbeth is a famous play by Shakespeare. It is about a murder of a character in the play and Shakespeare use pathetic fallacy in a very competent manner.  

Let’s take a look at an example of pathetic fallacy from Act II, Scene 3,

The night has been unruly. Where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’ th’ air, strange screams of death
….Some say the Earth
Was feverous and did shake. (2.3.28-36)

The reader is taken to the height of imagination of the dreadful murder with examples of pathetic fallacy like how unruly the night way, how death was screaming in the air and the earth was full of fever. These human emotions given to these objects makes the reader get engrossed into the text.  

Example #2: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is written by Emily Bronte and the name if the novel itself is an example of pathetic fallacy. The essay writers show how nature has its moods and describing these moods; she writes the story.

The night is described as “wild and windy” and when Mr. Earnshaw’s dies, the author beautifully uses “violent thunderstorm” to portray that eventful night.

Example #3: Great Expectations

The author of Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, uses pathetic fallacy when his main hero describes the weather as being wretched. Throughout the book, the reader enjoys the use of pathetic fallacy, especially when describing the weather. The protagonist of the story, Pip’s feelings are made apparent to the reader concerning the weather being delicious in Chapter 58. 

The June weather was delicious. The sky was blue; the larks were soaring high over the green corn. I thought all that countryside more beautiful and peaceful by far than I had ever known it to be yet.

Example #4: Ode to Melancholy

This is a famous poem written by John Keats. This is another example of the pathetic fallacy used in literature.

“But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud.”

Deep sadness is described by using pathetic fallacy as the clouds are given the human sentiment of crying tears.

Example #5: I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

The poet, William Wordsworth, uses pathetic fallacy. He describes himself as the cloud which experiences the emotion of loneliness.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,”

Example #6: Julius Caesar

The scene is at night before Caesar is assassinated in the famous book Julius Caesar. Pathetic fallacy is applied to describe a storm as violent that falls on the Roman capital.  The reader is made to feel the ominous dark night with several examples of pathetic fallacies. The weather is given several human emotions like “scolding winds,”, and “threatening clouds.”

Are you not moved, when all the sway of earth

Shakes like a thing see? O Cicero,

I have seen the tempests, when the scolding winds

Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen

The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam,

To be exalted with the threatening clouds:

But never till to-night, never till now,

Did I go through a tempest dropping fire. Pathetic fallacy, when used in the right way, can give greater depth to the text. Students should be taught to take inspiration from all the examples found in the literature of pathetic fallacy and use them in their own writing.

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