Literature, whether the novel, short story, or poem, uses various tropes in order to emphasize certain themes or ideas that the author wishes to express. One such trope is called personification. Used mainly in poetry, personification is the representation of inanimate objects or abstract ideas with either human attributes or through the persona of an individual character. For instance, the sun can have the very human ability to smile or a person can represent abstract ideas, such as John Milton’s devil in Paradise Lost being the personification of evil.
Personification is effective because it can extrapolate abstract ideas to readers and make them more human. Readers are able to relate to these ideas more because they personify a character to whom they have already grown attached. In poetry, personification is especially effective in that it is able to extract meaning and imagery to which the reader is also readily able to relate. For instance, a run-down, old home can be given the human attributes of an old man wheezing on his deathbed. Such a description is easily familiar to readers, and can create an image in the reader’s mind that is equally familiar when used as a personification.
Another trope that is used regularly in literature is imagery. Imagery, especially in poetry, is extremely important. Since poems are known for their brevity (though not all poems are necessarily short) they must be able to effectively reach the reader’s imagination much more quickly. The emphasis on imagery in poetry gives the poem more depth and feeling, and emphasizes the poem’s meaning in far greater detail. For instance, a poem about death might focus on images that are readily accessible to the reader: such as the wedding ring of a deceased spouse. Such an image can develop ideas of loss and grief. It also elicits an emotional response. In this case, imagery can be very manipulative in poetry, but depending on the topic, such manipulation is effective in forcing readers to consider things they might think about only in abstraction. Poetry, when it is effective, always takes the abstract and gives it a depth of feeling and experience. It takes these ideas and makes them real in the reader’s imagination.
Though both personification and imagery are used mostly in poetry, they are also effective in longer forms of literature. Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man, has his main narrator describe himself as “a walking personification of the Negative.” Inanimate objects or setting within a short story or novel can also be described through personification, especially when used to elicit an emotional beat or to describe the characters’ emotional state of mind. Imagery is also equally important in the short story and novel. For instance, the description of the wedding ring can be as equally effective in long form storytelling as a poem. Another exampled of the effectiveness of imagery is the madeleine in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, which prompts the narrator to recollect his past. When it comes to imagery, in fact, its effect is fairly interchangeable regardless of the medium which is using it.