Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Pathetic Fallacy in Fiction

Cover of serial, "Pickwick Club" by ...Image via Wikipedia

Writers have the tendency to spice up their text by attributing human feelings to nature and also to human-created objects.

Creative writers impute and endow feelings, emotions, impulses, intuitions, and other traits that humans possess, to forests, rivers, lakes, oceans, animals, the wind, rain, storms, etc.

Here’s an example from Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers:
The evening grew more dull every moment, and a melancholy wind sounded through the deserted fields, like a distant giant whistling for his house-dog. The sadness of the scene imparted a somber tinge to the feelings of Mr. Winkle. He started as they passed the angle of the trench—it looked like a colossal grave.
People grow dull or sharp, not evenings. What Dickens is doing is setting up a scene with which he intends to startle his readers, to put them in a state of suspense and terror. And if Dickens doesn’t fully intends to terrorize his readers at least he would have achieved a good scare—or at worst, get their attention.

Likewise, people grow melancholy and not the wind.

If you read closely you’ll see the elements (imagery) that Dickens uses to achieve that primeval fear we all carry within: dogs howling, whistling as we pass a cemetery and its graves. And by using the word ‘giant’ he magnifies, elongates, and distorts the nature and the objects to animate them and cause strangeness.

Related to the pathetic fallacy are the techniques of ‘animation’ and ‘objective correlatives.’

Originally posted in Writersrepublic.com

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