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Explore the Meaning, Significance and Examples of Zoomorphism

Zoomorphism is a literary device that gives animal-like qualities to things that aren't animals, such as gods, humans, and inanimate objects. This literary device is popular, employed in similes, metaphors, and imagery to create evocative descriptions for readers. In this article, we examine the meaning, significance, and examples of zoomorphism.

What is Zoomorphism? 

The word comes from the Greek words zōon, meaning animal, and morphē, meaning shape or form. Zoomorphism is the opposite of anthropomorphism. It gives animal attributes to people and extends these qualities to objects and deities. While anthropomorphism attributes human characteristics and qualities to animals or divinities, zoomorphism also involves giving the qualities of one animal to another. An example is a flying lion or a goat with claws in a cartoon or fantasy literature.

Importance of zoomorphism in literature

Zoomorphism is a popular literary device for describing a character with vivid imagery that readers can readily understand and appreciate. In making metaphorical expressions, it has shown heavy significance as one of the most common ways of comparing human, object, and god-like qualities. 

You can find the effects of zoomorphism illustrated in how religious texts use animals to describe the attributes of God. The Bible depicts the Holy Spirit as a dove and Jesus Christ as "the lion of the tribe of Judah." An elephant head symbolizes the Ganesha deity in Hinduism, and the serpent represents the devil in Christianity.

Zoomorphism has held a significant position in different fields, including folklore, mythology, classical literature, religion, and modern genre fiction such as fantasy, science fiction, and comic books.

Examples of zoomorphism in literature

Zoomorphism is a popular literary device, present in both prose and poetry, across many ages and periods. Here are just a few examples from notable works of fiction:

1. Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass (1997). "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."

2. William Shakespeare Othello (1603). "Iago: Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not serve God, if the devil bid you. Because we come to do you service and you think we are ruffians, you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse. You’ll have your nephews neigh to you. You’ll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans."

3. Yann Martel, Life of Pi (2001). "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."

4. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008). "She’s the twelve-year-old, the one who reminded me so of Prim in stature. Up close, she looks about ten. She has bright, dark eyes and satiny brown skin and stands tilted up on her toes with arms slightly extended to her sides, as if ready to take wing at the slightest sound. It’s impossible not to think of a bird."


Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass, Scholastic Press 1997.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi, Knopf Canada, 2001. 

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, Scholastic Press, 2008.

Zoomorphism, Wikipedia, 

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen