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Animal Metaphor
Sometimes an animal (or two animals) can symbolize a character or characters (humans or anthropomorphized animals) in a work. If the characters are human, these animals will generally be their pets, but in works of fantasy it's not uncommon for the characters to be transformed into animals and have to work together to return to safety and human form, learning more about each other along the way.

The most common form of this trope is the portrayal of two animals whose relationship mirrors or symbolizes the relationship between their owners.

Can be case of Truth in Television in that pets' behaviour tends to reflect their masters' moods.

Related to What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?. Subtrope of Animal Motifs.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Toradora! is something of a Portmanteau for the animals both leads have Animal Motifs of: Taiga as the Tiger ("Tora"), and Ryuuji as the Dragon ("Doragon"). They were aware of this early in the series.
  • Bleach:
    • Yoruichi and Soi Fon are symbolized by the cat and the hornet respectively. Yoruichi's personality is playful, and somewhat fickle, much like a cat's; in addition to her unexplained ability to actually turn into one, at will. Whereas Soi Fon, who's name literally means "break/broken hornet", has a personality befitting her namesake; being that she's slow to anger, yet deadly when provoked. This is also reflected in her zanpakuto, Suzumebachi, which is named after the asian hornet. The chapter in which they fight is even titled "Cat and Hornet".
    • Harribel was introduced as a villain she's a damsel in distress in the final arc. In her battle with Hitsugaya, the battle was heavily themed on dragons and sharks, even being commented on by the characters during the fight. Hitsugaya's power partially transforms him into an ice dragon and Harribel's nature is that of a shark. Both of them rely heavily on the amount of water in the atmosphere for their battle, but their fight consists of seeing who will soar and who will sink, with the observations being it's good when the shark sinks, but the dragon's in trouble when it happens to him, whereas the dragon prefers to soar, and that's trouble for the shark.
  • This is mentioned in the Pokémon episode "Bye Bye, Butterfree" when Brock claims that a relationship between two Butterfree equals a relationship between their trainers. Several Ash/Dawn shippers say the same in later seasons.
  • In Kodomo no Omocha, "natural enemies" Sana and Akito are represented as a mongoose and cobra, respectively.

    Fan Fiction 

    Film 
  • In Definitely, Maybe, the daughter tells her divorced parents that penguins mate for life, but sometimes the husband and wife penguins get separated 'cause of their migratory patterns and sometimes they're apart for years, but they almost always find each other.

    Literature 
  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the violent relationship between Hermione's cat Crookshanks and Ron's rat Scabbers triggers and comes to symbolise the breakdown in their owners' friendship. Of course, "He's not a rat. He's a man."
    • Ron's decision to check whether or not Crookshanks likes the owl Sirus gives him at the end of the book symbolises Ron and Hermione's repaired friendship.
    • Harry's Patronus is a stag because so was his father's, and his father could transform into a stag.
    • James Potter's Patronus is a stag. Lily Evans' is a doe.
    • Snape's Patronus is a doe because he's in love with Lily.
    • In Half-Blood Prince, Tonks' Patronus has changed to become a werewolf because she's in love with Lupin.
  • In the Five Find-Outers and Dog books by Enid Blyton, Bets' love for Fatty's dog Buster (and the fact that she's Buster's favourite) symbolises her hero-worship of Fatty and his love of her attention.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" Holmes remarks to Watson that you never see a sad dog in a happy family or vice versa.
  • Little Bear the dog, in Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series. The four main characters fully cooperated for the first time in order to rescue him, so he's a symbol of their bond. When three of the four young mages leave their temple home to go travelling, Little Bear goes with Tris — the one most reluctant to leave. This ties in to the main characters' growing independence... and distance from each other. By the time they return, their bond is so badly affected that it verges on non-existent, by which point Tris has left Little Bear at the temple with another young mage (see It's All Junk).
  • An article in The Onion has an entire family attempting to use the family dog as a metaphor for their relationship difficulties—The father for example saying that the dog feels confined and needs to run free, while the youngest child says the dog just wants some attention...
  • In the Erast Fandorin novel The State Councilor, Needle, a terrorist liaison, compares her romance with Mr. Green (a terrorist leader) to a picture of two giraffes she once saw, where the animals were depicted as awkwardly clueless on how to express affection for each other.
  • In the Belisarius Series, almost every character is described as an animal. Belisarius himself is often referred to as "the mongoose".

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Friends, Phoebe compares Ross & Rachel's relationship to lobster, because they mate for life. According to Phoebe, you can actually see old lobster couples in a lobster tank holding claws.
  • There's a Boy Meets World episode where Cory wants to get back together with Topanga. He follows her to Walt Disney World to win her back. There he talks to a dophin who is sad because it has lost its mate. He tells it that he believes Toganga is his mate.
  • In Robin Hood, the relationship between Will and Djaq is associated with symbolism about homing pigeons.
  • The Frasier episode "You Can Go Home Again" contains an extended Flash Back to the day of Frasier's first radio show, during the course of which Niles describes his relationship with Maris by saying, "Like the Arctic puffin, we mate for life." It's doubly symbolic given Maris' constant association with coldness and ice throughout the series.
    • Invoked and parodied in another episode when Eddie gets depressed. A pet psychiatrist claims that his depression is probably being caused by the behaviour of one of the humans he sees regularly, and encourages Martin, Niles, Frasier and Daphne to act cheerful around him. Roz joins the others and they attempt to analyze themselves to discover the root of the problem. They discover that they're all in some way depressed, but then Eddie finds his favourite toy and cheers up. They joke about how they were following his lead, but their problems can't be solved by a cheap treat, only to perk up when Daphne's cookies finish baking.

    Music 
  • The video for the song "Say You Don't Want It" by For One Night Only uses the relationship between a stray and a rich woman's pampered lapdog to symbolise the relationship between the streetwise, cocky lead singer and his sheltered, better-off girlfriend (played by Emma Watson). If the dogs' relationship is anything to go by, their romance won't work out...
  • The song "Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades" by Brand New, which is about a failing relationship, contains the following line:
    He is the lamb: she is the slaughter
    • A small, featureless picture of a white lamb is a recurring image in the video.
    • And yes, the song is about sex...
  • Indeed, there was a whole Forgotten Trope genre of songs (occurring, for instance, in Gilbert and Sullivan operas) where Interspecies Romances or even relations between inanimate objects symbolize unrequited love.
  • Angus Stone's song "Bird on a Buffalo" uses the titular animals' symbiotic relationship to represent unconditional love between two people.

    Real Life 
  • 'Lovebirds' have become symbolic of romance in Western culture.
  • Eagles and Lions are symbols of majesty.
    • More specifically, Rome is the reason for all of this:
      • The Roman Republic's original symbol was the wolf, but by the time of the Roman Empire the Eagle had become the dominant symbol of the whole empire and the emperor himself.
      • The Byzantine and Holy Roman Empires both kept the eagle in the Middle Ages but it had gained a second head - one representing the power of the emperor and one representing the power of the pope.
      • As the church and the Holy Roman Empire began to fracture, states began taking the lion as their symbol to represent the authority of the monarch rather than the church or the pope. States remaining loyal to the church kept the double-headed eagle. This persisted up until the 20th Century.
      • 20th Century nationalism, wishing to recall the glory of the Roman Empire, re-adopted the eagle as part of their standards. Modern states still have the eagle symbolizing authority, although the associations with Rome and papal authority are long gone. Lions persist also especially in the UK.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • On Adventure Time, Finn point out to Ice King that swans mate for life and shows him an elderly swan couple. One of the swans then swallows the other whole.
  • A very odd example, considering the couple in question are themselves animals, occurs in The Lion King 2. Kiara wistfully watches a pair of doves fly off together before she starts the "Love Will Find a Way" number, where she and Kovu are reunited.
  • Played with in Total Drama Island, where two squirrels "lip synch" a conversation happening between two of the contestants in a mocking fashion.
  • The Disney version of Pocahontas does this with the title character's raccoon and the Englishman's dog. These two animals serve as a symbolic representation for the friction between the natives and English settlers. By the end of the film, the animal mascots are friendly, and all hostilities are seemingly resolved between the two peoples.

Motif MergerMotifsArachnid Appearance and Attire
Animals Lack AttributesAnimal TropesAnimal Motifs
    Animal MotifsAnimal Theme Naming

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