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Pathetic Fallacy: Historic Important and Significance as a Literary Device


Task: Discuss the implication of pathetic fallacy in quality pieces of literature.


If taken the instance of The Haunted Mansion of Macbeth written by the world-known writer Shakespeare, the term pathetic fallacy could be observed to have used very frequently. Suppose that these pieces of literature would have used obsolete terms despite using these special literary devices then the work would not have been as magical as it is perceived now. The prevalent use of pathetic fallacy could also be traced among other prominent literary works.

Before moving on with the discussion on a pathetic fallacy, we should first under what is meant by the term pathetic fallacy and what relevance it holds in the literary world. Let us discuss thoroughly the ideology of pathetic fallacy. This article on a pathetic fallacy is dedicated to our students and subscribers who have a very didactic approach in the discipline of arts and literature.

Definition of Pathetic Fallacy
The term pathetic fallacy in the discipline of literature signifies the implication of feelings and perceptual characteristics of human beings to nonliving things or other matters found in nature. This ideology could also be classified under the segregation of personification which is heavily used in the poetic literature. Some of the most used examples for pathetic fallacy are the phrases like the night have been unruly, dancing leaves, clamored the livelong night, etc. It should be noted by our students the word pathetic is used in the background of insulting or deprecating context. The conveyance or the indulgence of the human emotions to other matters is meant through the term of pathetic.

pathetic fallacy

It is quite common that you would be quite confused between the contextual meaning of personification and pathetic fallacy. Even by the literary experts, the contextual meaning of thee terms is muddled. It should be noted that there is a high contextual difference between the meaning of pathetic fallacy and personification. As mentioned above in this article the context of pathetic fallacy used at places where the personification of non-living things in nature is required. The human emotions are being entitled to the matters occurring in nature like soil, night, morning, light, water, rain, etc.

Unlike the ideology of the pathetic fallacy, the concept of personification is quite elaborate in context. The context of the personification could be applied to the living or animated things and other things which even not exist in nature and hence its applicability is very broad and high.

The quality and frequent use of the pathetic fallacy could be observed in the literary pieces (apart from Macbeth of Shakespeare) are Wuthering Hearts written by Emily Bronte, Ode to Melancholy by John Keats, Great expectation by Charles Dickens, I Wandered Lonely as a cloud written by famous poet William Wordsworth, etc.

The major aim of using the pathetic fallacy in literary work is to represent human characteristics and mental attributes in the non-living things prevailing in nature. The use of pathetic fallacy would attract the attention of the reader thereby enlightening his emotional perseverance. The use of a pathetic theory would bring another level of quality in the written content. The transfer of the ideas from the writer to the reader would be exponentially increased by the use of a very good and relevant pathetic fallacy.

pathetic fallacy

The term pathetic fallacy has been termed by John Ruskin to criticize the mawkishness and romanticism of the literary works which prevailed in his contemporary period. As mentioned above the poets like William Keats, Shelly, Shakespeare, etc. had immensely used the terms in their works which came under the classification of pathetic fallacy. Although in the due course of the period, the contextual meaning of the term pathetic fallacy had changed in the discipline of pathetic fallacy. The context in which Ruskin had used this term denoted the ideology of creating a voluntary manipulation or falseness from the point of view of the reader. In rough terms, the term pathetic fallacy was used to signify the context of emotional falseness.

The use of pathetic fallacy is now done to deliver the anthropological sentiments to the matters which are inanimate in nature. By the tool of pathetic fallacy, the reader could convey his psychological experience on other natural factors. If taken an imaginary instance, conceive that the writer has an intention to portray an intense fight. He could elucidate it by writing: violent storm rages.

Origin of the term pathetic fallacy
As mentioned by the sources provided in the Encyclopedia of Britannica, the term pathetic fallacy was first introduced in the article of Modern Painters. The work was published by John Ruskin in the later years of the 18th century. Apart from the above-mentioned poets and writers, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot had frequently used the ideology of pathetic fallacy in their work. We have mentioned in the above section of this report on the pathetic fallacy that the contextual meaning of the term had evolved a lot. The current contextual meaning is not intended to condemn any of the contexts.

pathetic fallacy

History if the term pathetic fallacy
It is from the Latin language that the term pathetic fallacy was derived from. The root words were pathos which conveyed the meaning of emotion or feeling. As explained earlier, the term is not derogatory in the manner and hence doesn’t convey the contextual meaning of lameness. The root word fallax had generated the other term fallacy which when juxtaposed with the word pathetic would give the contextual meaning of emotional falseness. Our students should take into account that the term pathetic fallacy should not be used as a negative word. The phrases coming under the classification of pathetic fallacy are implied to represent the ideas innovatively by allotting the human behavior to the non-living things.

The contextual difference in between Anthropomorphism and Pathetic fallacy
Different from the circumstantial meaning of pathetic fallacy, the ideology of Anthropomorphism is used as an abstract and rhetorical usage. Though it is also used to allocate the human psychological aspects to the inanimate things, it is quite different from the ideology of pathetic fallacy. The main utility of the term Anthropomorphism is to imply the exact term of the word literally. If the human actions like smiling, frowning, winking, etc. are applied to the non-living thing then it would come under the category of Anthropomorphism. The character Simba from the movie ‘The Lion King’, The character SpongeBob, Winnie the Pooh, etc. comes under this category.

The mention of the pathetic fallacy would be incomplete if there is no mention of Macbeth by Shakespeare. The major use of the pathetic fallacy is evident in the section of Macbeth where the murder of Duncan is mentioned. It is specially mentioned in Scene 3 of Act 2.

pathetic fallacy

The writer has very efficiently used the tool of pathetic fallacy, by mentioning the weird ambiance of the night when the Duncan was murdered. The effective and efficient phrases like the night have been unruly, Earth was feverous and did shake, Lamenting hear i’th’ air, strange screams of death, etc. would display the very innovative description of the iniquitous murder of the character in the dawn.

The use of pathetic fallacy is done to bring some degree of quality to the piece of literature. If a student has a very good hold on how to imply the pathetic fallacy in his literary works, he would truly impress his audience or the readers.

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