Pathetic Fallacy

An Introduction to Pathetic Fallacy

Pathetic Fallacy is a literary device which denotes the practice of attributing human emotionsOpens in new window and characteristic to non-human objects or natural phenomena. In other words, treating inanimate objects in the manner that suggests they had human feelings, thought, or sensations.

Pathetic fallacy is different from personification, in which the latter uses non-human objects to compare with living things. On the other hand, pathetic fallacy simply attributes human characteristics such as emotion, and actions to non-living objects.

The word pathetic has an underlying meaning, which in terms of rhetoric, means “an appeal to emotions”, “imparting emotions to something else”. For example, the sentence “The somber clouds darkened our mood” is a pathetic fallacy as human attributes are given to an inanimate object of nature reflecting a mood. But, “The sparrow talked to us” is a personificationOpens in new window because the animate object of nature “sparrow” is given the human quality of “talking”.

Using a natural phenomenom such as the weather, as a literary element gained popularity in the literature. The weather can be manipulated just as a character, in order to heighten or underscore what is going on in the work. This usage was particularly popular among English poets prior to 1856, when John RuskinOpens in new window coined the term “pathetic fallacy” to describe the projection of human emotions onto nature. As a literary element, the use of weather — one aspect of nature — falls under this heading. Ruskin, however, used the term pejoratively to describe the overuse of nautre personified in the English poets of his day (161 – 77).

Examples of Pathetic Fallacy
  • The brooding sky refused to offer the frightened children relief and it loomed over them menacingly.
  • The first rays of morning peeked nervously over the brow of the hill.
  • Nature must be gladsome when i was so happy
  • Angry clouds, harsh wind, happy sunshine
  • The stars danced playfully in a moonlit sky.
  • The flowers waltzed in the gentle breeze
  • The table's leg stepped in my way
  • The sun beat down on me angrily
  • The wind whispered to me quietly
Further Readings:
Wikipedia | Pathetic FallacyOpens in new window