I recently found myself wondering if Erasmus was the first writer to personify an idea, as he did in “The Praise of Folly” and “The Complaint of Peace.” Then I remembered that in the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom is personified. Was that the first time personification was used in literature? What other early writers used personification? What are things that authors personify in writing? Curiosity, humor, wit, empathy, pragmatism…they all sound interesting. I once wrote a fable personifying Language called “The Love of Language” – I loved it!
A mountain, an ocean, or a tree, are all possible subjects for personification. But what about personifying things like war, hate, revenge, resentment, bitterness, or envy – I think it would be depressing to do so.
Kurt Vonnegut said that writers of good fiction are depressed. Is that true? If so, why? Perhaps that is because they write about depressing things. They personify lust, hatred, greed, anger - elements of the dark side - in their characters.
C. S. Lewis personified evil in The Screwtape Letters. He said it was easy to do – he just inverted what we call Good with what we call Evil. Actually he said it was too easy to do which made him uncomfortable.
Is the reason there are so many books that personify the dark side of human nature because we know it so well? Hmm…do we know our evil nature better than our good? Perhaps that is the reason books about the dark side are so popular – we recognize and understand it.
What do you think? Does the author use personification in any of your favorite books? If so, what does he or she personify?