Pathetic Fallacy- 5 Great Facts You Must Know

From Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion”, we can see abundant use of pathetic fallacy. Imagine how these works would have lost their magic without the use of this specific literary device.

Pathetic Fallacy

We can see the use of pathetic fallacy in
several literary works. But, what exactly the pathetic fallacy is and how to
use them effectively. If you want to expand your knowledge, so that you can
brag about it, read on to some unknown facts about pathetic fallacy that no one
would tell you.

What is Pathetic Fallacy ?

It is a literary device, which accredits
human emotions to inanimate objects, nature or animals. This figure of speech
is usually used to reflect the narrator or other characters’ inner experience
through the environment. For example, in many novels, we see that during an intense
fight scene, a violent storm rages, or rainfall occurs when a character dies.
Another example of pathetic fallacy can be found in Keats’ ‘Ode to Melancholy’:

“Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud”

Here, ‘weeping cloud’ shows that the human
emotion weeping has been ascribed to clouds. Thus, this is an example of
pathetic fallacy.

Click here to learn more about the use of various language techniques.

Now, to clear your concept of pathetic fallacy, here are some important facts about this literary device

  • Pathetic fallacy is different from personification- Anybody learning about pathetic fallacy will readily identify it with personification which is another literary device.  But, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they are the same. This is how they differ:
  • Pathetic fallacy- It can be seen as a type of personification where inanimate objects
    of nature are given human emotions. For example, in the line, “The night has
    been unruly”, the human emotion unruly has been attributed to the night.
    Pathetic fallacy is usually associated with only the ascription of human
    emotions to different facets of nature.
  • Personification- On the other hand, in personification, any human action, quality, or
    attribute can be ascribed to nonhuman things. An example of personification
    would be “The Sun smiled at us”. Here, human action has been attributed to the
    Sun. Personification is attributed to both natural and man-made things.


  • Origin of the term- According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the term pathetic fallacy was coined by John Ruskin in his work ‘Modern Painters’. Ruskin considered the extreme usage of fallacy as the sign of an inferior poet. He defined the term as “emotional falseness” as he criticised the 18th Century Romantic poets’ sentimental attitude.  However, later, writers of the early 20th century like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound effectively and freely used the pathetic fallacy. Over time, the term’s meaning has also changed or shifted. It is now utilised to depict. Moreover, it does not criticise the ascription of emotions to inanimate things.
  • The origin of the word- The word ‘pathetic’derives
    from the Latin word ‘pathos’ which means ‘feeling’. Hence, ‘pathetic’, in this
    context, does not suggest ‘lame’ or ‘bad’. ‘Fallacy’ derives from the Latin
    word ‘fallax’, which means ‘false’ or ‘deceitful’. Thus, when these two words
    are placed side by side, it suggests that ascribing human feelings to inanimate
    things is false. But, it does not give the meaning that it is always a mistake
    to use pathetic fallacy. This literary device is used with the purpose of
    inducing a specific emotional atmosphere.
  • Pathetic fallacy is also
    different than Anthropomorphism-
    is another kind of figurative language, which involves the ascription of human
    characteristics to inanimate things or animals. However, it does differ from
    the pathetic fallacy.
  • Pathetic fallacy- This literary device ascribes human emotions to non-human things or
    creatures. However, it is not literal; it is just a figurative description,
    which is meant to fill the image with a specific emotion.
  • Anthropomorphism- This figurative language literally attributes human characteristics
    to inanimate objects and animals. The human qualities ascribed to the non-human
    characters are done literally and not just in a figurative way.  In anthropomorphism, the inanimate things and
    animals do human-like actions like talking, winking, etc. literally. Some
    examples of the characters developed through anthropomorphism are Winnie the
    Pooh from ‘Winnie the Pooh’, Simba from ‘The Lion King’.


  • Shakespeare’s use of
    pathetic fallacy-
    We can see the use of pathetic
    fallacy in Macbeth by Shakespeare. This was used to depict the dark murder of
    Duncan. Lennox says in Act 2 Scene 3:


the pathetic fallacy has been used to explain the gloomy atmosphere of the
night Duncan was murdered. The lines, ‘the night has been unruly’, ‘Lamenting
heard i’ th’ air, strange screams of death’, and ‘Earth was feverous and did
shake’ all described the sinful murder that took place in the previous night.

So, this is all
you need to know about pathetic fallacy and a few interesting facts about it.
You can use this information in your writing to improve its quality.

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