The pathetic fallacy is the projection of human emotions onto non-human objects found in nature. It differs from personification, which can give any human characteristic to a thing and is used to create a tone or show a character’s state of mind. An example would be, “the rain fell like teardrops.”

Throughout this handy Twinkl teaching wiki, we’ll explore what pathetic fallacy is, why it’s used and where you might find it. Moreover, we’ll also go over where it falls into the National Curriculum and how you can use our fantastic resources to teach your class about this literary technique. So without further ado, let’s jump right in!

What is a Pathetic Fallacy? – A Definition

Let’s start things off with a handy definition of what pathetic fallacy is.

The pathetic fallacy is a literary device in which human feelings, qualities, or attributes are given to a non-human object in nature.

Many people think of pathetic fallacy as the projection of human emotions onto the weather. However, it can apply to many other natural, non-human things, including rocks, trees, and even animals.

What is the difference between pathetic fallacy and personification?

While pathetic fallacy is a form of personification, it is also distinct because it applies specifically to natural objects. Personification, on the other hand, is a broader term for the device that can give human attributes to just about any non-human object.

Your learners can remember this difference by placing a few simple rules. These state:

  • The pathetic fallacy is specifically about giving emotions to something non-human.
  • Personification, on the other hand, gives any human attribute to an object. For example, ‘the wind whispered through the trees or ‘the flowers danced in the breeze.’

For example, a chair that speaks and eats would be a personification, while a chair that seems sad would be a pathetic fallacy.

Why is it called a Pathetic Fallacy?

John Ruskin, a literary critic from the Victorian era, coined the same pathetic fallacy. He found the relationship between the poets’ emotions and inanimate objects to be disingenuous and fundamentally incorrect – a fallacy.

The word pathetic isn’t used in the way it would be today as ‘weak’ or ‘miserable.’ Instead, ‘pathetic’ is used here to relate to the Greek word ‘pathos,’ which means ‘suffering’ or ‘to impart emotions onto something else.

So if we take the two words and put them together, we could describe pathetic fallacy as an ‘emotional falseness.’

What is the function of pathetic fallacy?

By now, you’ll no doubt know all about what this literary device is and how it differs from personification. But what is it used for?

, writers will typically use pathetic fallacy to emphasize the emotional state of the atmosphere in the literature or to set the mood for a scene. For instance, if a character is angry, the writer might choose to express this using ‘raging thunderstorms,’ or if they’d like to create a happier tone, they might use pathetic fallacy such as ‘the sun beamed warmly.’

The pathetic fallacy also functions to help readers create simple and clear connections between what they are reading and an emotion they may have personally experienced. So it is because it is simpler for readers to connect to abstract emotions when observing them in their natural surroundings. And by employing this technique, your young writers can have a go at bringing inanimate objects to life so that the nature of the emotions they convey is understood better.

What are some examples of pathetic fallacy?

The best way to fully understand this literary device is to see it in action, so let’s look at various examples. You can often see pathetic fallacy applied to weather in literature, for example:

Angry storms began to roll in.

The tree seemed indifferent.

A table that looks exhausted.

Pathetic fallacy is also a great technique if you or your learners want to add a bit of extra emotional weight to your sentences. Check out these sentences and see how they use it to bring human emotions to weather patterns:

  • ‘The raindrops wept around him.
  • ”A warm sun shone brightly on the party guests as they arrived in the garden.
  • ”The weather is miserable outside.’

And what’s more, this literary device has even been used by some of the literary greats in their most famous pieces of writing. Here are some examples of poems, novels, and plays that make clever use of this technique:

  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • Ode to Melancholy by John Keats
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
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