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Zoomorphism: The Eye of the Tiger

Updated: May 10

Grammar Gadgets Series

Issue 2
pencil, paper and a gear Grammar Gadgets

This post is part of the Grammar Gadgets series, a collection of in-depth studies of literary devices, aka figures of speech. Focusing on one device at a time will present a clearer understanding of each, as well as answer when, where, and how the tool is used. Since so many literary devices are very similar to one another, this will help us to differentiate between, say, a simile and a metaphor.


Exploring Zoomorphism in Literature

Throughout history, humans have used animals as a means of expressing their complex relationship with the natural world. From ancient fables to contemporary literature, animals have played a significant role in shaping human narratives.

The use of animals in literature can be seen as a reflection of our own psychological and emotional states, as well as an extension of our cultural and societal values. This post will explore the concept of zoomorphism in literature and how animal characters shape human narratives.

Definition of Zoomorphism

The term 'zoomorphism' comes from the Greek words 'zōon' (animal) and 'morphē' (form or shape). Zoomorphism is the literary device where animal attributes are given to humans or objects to create a metaphorical connection between them. In its most basic interpretation, zoomorphism refers to the use of animal imagery or metaphorical associations in order to explore human nature or ideas that can’t be expressed otherwise.

Importance of Animals in Human Narratives

Animals are central figures in many human cultures, religions, and mythologies. They evoke a sense of wonder that is often lost when we interact with technology or other humans. This is partly because animals represent something beyond our own species: they embody nature itself—what it means to be wild and free. In literature, animals provide authors with an opportunity to explore themes that are difficult to express using only human characters. These themes can include morality, power dynamics within groups or societies, and philosophical questions about humanity’s place in the universe, among others.

Not to be Confused With—Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is another way that animals are represented in literature, though it is different from zoomorphism. Anthropomorphism refers to giving human traits to animals—think of Disney's Mickey Mouse or Aesop's fables, where talking animals act like humans.

On the other hand, zoomorphism involves using animal characteristics to describe humans or objects—for example, that woman is “as free as a bird” or, our teacher is “a wise old owl”. Zoomorphism can be more subtle than anthropomorphism but equally powerful in its use of metaphorical language.

The Role of Animals in Literature

Historical Significance and Cultural Symbolism

a bald eagle

Animals have played a significant role in literature throughout history. Ancient myths and religious texts often featured animals as divine or symbolic beings. For example, the Egyptians worshipped animal gods such as the cat goddess Bastet, while the Bible uses the dove to represent peace, or the lamb as a symbol of innocence.

In Western literature, animals have been used to represent different virtues and vices such as loyalty (dog) or deceit (snake). Animals also serve as cultural symbols, representing national identities like the American bald eagle or the Chinese dragon.

The Psychological Impact of Animal Characters on Readers

Animal characters in literature often have a profound impact on readers, regardless of age. The use of animal characters can offer a sense of escapism from reality, allowing readers to project themselves onto these characters and identify with their struggles. Moreover, animal characters can provide an emotional distance that allows readers to examine human experiences without becoming overwhelmed or defensive. This distancing effect is particularly evident when authors use animals to address complex or sensitive issues such as death, grief, or trauma.

Animal Archetypes and Their Influence on Human Behavior

The use of animal archetypes is not new in literature; it has been present for centuries in fairy tales and myths. Animals are often used to represent certain traits or characteristics that humans may aspire to possess or avoid. For instance, foxes are often portrayed as quick and cunning creatures while cats are associated with agility and independence. These archetypes have a profound impact on human behavior by shaping our perception of ourselves and others.

Animal Imagery and Its Effect on Human Emotions

Animal imagery is prevalent in literature across all genres from poetry to drama and fantasy. The use of animal imagery can evoke powerful emotions such as fear, love, and anger, within the reader's mind. Animal imagery also has a symbolic value that allows writers to convey abstract concepts more effectively than through direct description alone. Animal characters serve not only as literary devices but also as mirrors reflecting our humanity back at us, highlighting our flaws and strengths alike. They provide us with an emotional vocabulary that we can use to explore our own lives and relationships, and they inspire us to be better versions of ourselves.

Examples of Zoomorphism in Literature

Traditional Fables and Fairy Tales

Fables and fairy tales have been around for centuries and often feature animal characters as protagonists. These stories typically have a moral lesson or teach values to children.

A classic example is The Tortoise and the Hare, where the hare's arrogance leads to his downfall as he loses a race to the slow and steady tortoise. Another popular example is The Three Little Pigs, where three pigs build houses of different materials, but only the one who builds a house of bricks survives the wolf's attempt to blow it down.

Contemporary Literature and Popular Culture

picture of Batman

In today's society, animals continue to be prominent in literature, film, television shows, music, and video games. We see zoomorphism a lot in comic books—for example: Batman, Spiderman, and Black Panther; or in music—The Eagles, The Stray Cats, or the famous song by Survivor, "Eye of the Tiger".

Fantasy literature often creates entire worlds where animals play a central role in the narrative. These stories can be used as allegories for real-world issues or simply as a way to explore the infinite possibilities of the imagination.

One example of this is C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, where talking animals are an integral part of the world-building. By creating a world in which animals are sentient and can speak, Lewis is able to explore complex themes such as power, faith, and loyalty.

Similarly, Disney’s animated film, Robin Hood features a wide variety of animal characters that play important roles in the narrative. The hero, Robin Hood, is a red fox, while King Richard is portrayed as a lion (king of the jungle). The presence of these animals adds depth and richness to the story.

Overall, zoomorphism has been used effectively across various genres throughout literary history. Whether it serves as allegory or simply adds depth and texture to a narrative, animal imagery has proven itself to be a powerful tool for writers seeking to convey complex emotions and ideas.

What Have We Learned?

In conclusion, zoomorphism is a powerful literary device that can be used to create vivid and compelling descriptions in literature, poetry, and other forms of artistic expression. By using animal traits or characteristics to describe human beings, objects, or ideas, writers are able to create stories that are both engaging and memorable. Whether used to create allegories, symbolize deeper meanings, or simply to add color to a description, zoomorphism is a tool that every writer should have in their literary toolbox.


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