Zoomorphism

Most animals are well-known for specific characteristics like the way they walk, sound, or move. Sometimes, humans also use these characteristics to describe their actions, especially in stories.

This way of describing is actually a literary device used by writers, which is known as Zoomorphism.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this Zoomorphism and discuss its use in narratives.

What is zoomorphism in literature?

Zoomorphisim is a literary device used to give animal-like qualities to anything that is not an animal, such as humans, gods, and inanimate objects.

It is also defined as an art that portrays one animal-like species to another animal species or forms of art that use animals as a visual motif. This style is sometimes referred to as “animal style.” In the ancient Egyptian religion, they depict deities in an animal form, which is an example of zoomorphism not only in art but in a religious context.

There’s also a particular class of zoomorphism in which a human can shape-shift into an animal. It is called Therianthropy, which we see mostly in comic books like Batman, Black Panther, Spiderman, etc.

Zoomorphism played an essential part in various fields such as religion, folklore, mythology, classical literature, and modern genres of fiction such as sci-fi, comic books, and fantasy.

Various religious gods were represented in an animal form. For instance, the Holy Spirit in Christianity depicted with a dove or deity Ganesha – the elephant-headed god in Hinduism.

However, Zoomorphism is mostly common in simple examples of a comparison of a person’s movements, characteristics, or features to an animal. This style is popular in describing a new character so that the reader acquires a complete understanding of the role.

What does zoomorphism mean?

The word Zoomorphism [ˌzəʊəˈmɔːfɪzəm] came from the Greek words ζωον (zōon), which means “animal,” and μορφη (morphē), which means “shape” or “form.” In terms of art, Zoomorphism could describe art that imagines humans as non-human animals.

Synonym: ascription, attribution

Examples of Zoomorphism

We can find zoomorphism examples in many literary pieces written during the Romans and ancient Greeks’ time. However, modern literature has used it extensively as well.

Zoomorphism on words

Many comic books that feature superheroes with superpowers associated with an animal are perfect examples of Zoomorphism. Here are just a few examples:

  • Antman
  • Catwoman
  • Spiderman
  • Black Panther
  • Batman

Zoomorphism on idiomatic phrases

There are also many common English idiomatic phrases, which are examples of Zoomorphism. Here are a few of them:

  • Their unnecessary questioning ruffled some feathers in the meeting.
  • He was barking up the wrong tree by questioning him.
  • The student was chomping at the bit at the beginning of the debate.

Zoomorphisim in a sentence

Zoomorphism can also be applied to sentences, whether common sentences we use every day or sentences used for stories and other literary pieces. Here are some examples:

  • I swear you wouldn’t want to mess with those crab-claw hands of hers.
  • The chubby little boy rolled around in the mud like a pig.
  • Sin was lurking like a beast waiting to devour Cain in Genesis.

Zoomorphism on songs

Like what we mentioned earlier, zoomorphism is commonly used on literary pieces like novels, stories, and more. However, not only in literary pieces but also seen in many modern songs. Here are some examples:

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight

hunt you down eat you alive

Just like animals.

Maybe you think that you can hide 

I can smell your scent for miles 

Just like animals.

  • Maroon 5, Animals

I will soar on wings like eagles

Held by the hand of God

I will run and not grow tired

When on his name I call

  • Don Moen, Like Eagles

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise

  • Beatles, Blackbird

It’s the eye of the tiger. It’s the thrill of the fight

Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival

And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night

And he’s watchin’ us all with the eye of the tiger

  • Survivor, Eye of the Tiger

Zoomorphism in Literature

It came as an unmistakable indication to me of how low I had sunk the day I noticed, with a pinching of the heart, that I ate like an animal, that this noisy, frantic unchewing wolfing-down of mine was exactly the way Richard Parker ate.

Life of Pi, a philosophical fiction novel by Yann Martel, talks about a boy named Pi who survived a shipwreck and got stuck on a boat with a tiger named Richard Parker. After spending a long time afloat in the middle of nowhere with just the tiger, Pi finds himself becoming more animal-like, eating just as Richard Parker does.

Lord Asriel was a tall man with powerful shoulders, a fierce dark face, and eyes that seemed to flash and glitter with savage laughter. It was a face to be dominated by, or to fight: never a face to patronize or pity. All his movements were large and perfectly balanced, like those of a wild animal, and when he appeared in a room like this, he seemed a wild animal held in a cage too small for it.

In The Golden Compass, a fantasy novel by Philip Pullman, the character named Lord Asriel was described in a way excerpted as you read above. Lord Asriel’s movements are said to sound similar to a wild animal. Indeed, his character is well-personified by a wild animal inside a cage. This description makes him seem more savage and more dreadful to contend.

For a brief moment, the great black dog reared on to its hind legs and placed its front paws on Harry’s shoulders, but Mrs. Weasley shoved Harry away towards the train door, hissing, ‘For heaven’s sake, act more like a dog, Sirius!’

“See you!” I call out of the open window as the train begins to move, while Ron, Hermione, Harry, and Ginny wave beside me. The figures of Tonks, Lupin, Moody, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley shrink rapidly, but the black dog is bounding alongside the window, wagging its tail; blurred people on the platform are laughing seeing it chasing the train, and then we round the bend, and Sirius was gone.

In Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix by J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, a handful of characters can shape-shift into animals. In the excerpt seen above, Harry’s godfather, Sirius, shape-shifted into a dog to accompany him unnoticed to the train station. Sirius acts like a dog in specific ways, like running along the train and wagging his tail. Yet Mrs. Weasley is irked that not all of his actions are dog-like and could give away his disguise.

“For you have been my help. I will rejoice in the shadow of your wings. 

In this verse from the book of Psalm 63:7, God is represented as a bird. The bird’s/God’s wings are described as the comfort and shelter that God gives to His people.

“You never know for sure how girls’ minds work (do you think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?) but you got the idea she had talked the other two into coming in here with her, and now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight … 

The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle – the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything) – were pretty hilarious…”

In A&P, a short story by John Updike, buzz like a bee, implies that nothing is remarkable in the girls’ minds. At the same time, the customers are compared to sheep, who wander in groups mindlessly down the aisles.

What is the difference between zoomorphism, personification, and anthropomorphism?

Zoomorphism

Like what we mentioned earlier, zoomorphism is a technique used to describe or give animal-like attributes to anything that’s non-animal. It can be an object, a human, or a piece of art. It is often used in the process of dehumanization and is quite a powerful technique.

Example: The feet of bathtubs and tables were carved to look like lions’ feet.

Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of zoomorphism. We use it to ascribe human qualities to other objects, animals, and inhuman creatures to give an insight into their functions. It brings non-human things to life using human attributes, usually to serve as an extended metaphor or allegory.

Example: The Animal Farm, where pigs represent political figures and social classes to demonstrate the allegorical meaning of communism, Russia.

Personification

Personification is a technique used mainly for imagery. It uses human qualities to describe something non-human. It’s quite similar to anthropomorphism. The only difference is their purpose of usage. Personification is useful in animating a setting, or in emphasizing the importance of some non-human entity. It gives life to elements of stories that can engage the reader further.

Example: I heard the last piece of pizza calling for me.

Why is Zoomorphism used?

Zoomorphism is a literary technique often found in short stories. But some records show it has been used as a literary device since the ancient Romans and Greeks.

Zoomorphism is used because it is a very helpful tool for the practical description of different characters. The purpose of this literary technique is to create a figurative language and provide a comparison.

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Product designer, writer, UX guy, and founder of Nicely Said. Past experience includes Disney, Inside Out Leadership, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Two Hat. With a Master's Degree from the School of Hard Knocks, Chris has been publishing content on the web since the pre-blog days of Diaryland and LiveJournal. He's been playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms II on Super Nintendo since 1992.

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