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Animal Metaphor

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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. Supertrope to Caged Bird Metaphor.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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.
  • Folgore from Zatch Bell! reveals that of any animal, he identifies himself with the hippo. Kanchome laughs at this and says that he'd rather be cool like a lion. This comes to prominence during a battle later, when Folgore reveals his backstory as a "lion man" who would fiercely attack anyone and scared away even those he wanted to protect. After watching a TV show about hippos, he realized that while hippos look goofy and are normally docile, they can even overcome lions when they need to. Kanchome, who was drunk on power to the point where he was brutally torturing his enemies and even terrifying his own allies, then realized what Folgore meant.
  • This is mentioned in the Pokémon: The Original Series episode "Bye Bye, Butterfree" when Brock claims that a relationship between two Butterfree equals a relationship between their trainers.
  • In Kodocha, "natural enemies" Sana and Akito are represented as a mongoose and cobra, respectively.

    Fan Fiction 

    Film — Animated 
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney): Frollo uses the metaphor of ants for the gypsies of Paris.
    Frollo: For twenty years I have been... taking care of the gypsies. (squashing an ant with his finger at each word) One. By. One. And yet, for all my success, (lifts slab stone, revealing hundreds of ants underneath) they have thrived. I believe they have a safe haven within the walls of this very city. Ah, a nest, if you will. They call it the "Court of Miracles".
    Phoebus: What are we going to do about it, sir?
  • A very odd example, considering the couple in question are themselves animals, occurs in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. 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.
  • 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.
  • There are two villains in Disney's Tarzan: Sabor, a leopard who kills Tarzan's parents, and Clayton, a poacher aiming to kill Tarzan's adoptive gorilla troop. Clayton is introduced after Sabor dies, and is designed as a humanized version of her—his yellow outfit evokes the beast's fur, and he becomes just as ruthless and feral in the end.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • In The Wind and the Lion
    • Teddy Roosevelt symbolizes America with the American Grizzly: proud, intelligent and ferocious, but also a bit reckless. Roosevelt himself is frequently symbolized by the "wind" of the title.
    • Raisuli is frequently symbolized by a lion, and contrasted with other Berbers who would also like to be thought as such.
  • James Bond:
  • In Jason's Lyric, when the titular characters travel to the bayou, two swans are seen on the lake nearby. Not long after the close up of the two swans, Jason and Lyric start kissing followed by making passionate love. Swan is widely known as a symbol of love that it represents the couple who have just found love in each other.
  • In both the film and novel of The Horse Whisperer, Grace gets in an accident while riding her horse Pilgrim one day (an accident that also kills her best friend Judith). Grace also loses her leg while Pilgrim is badly injured, as well as badly traumatized. Grace's mother, Annie, kicks off the plot by driving Grace and Pilgrim to Montana to have Tom Booker, the title character, take a look at Pilgrim because she knows Pilgrim's recovery is tied to Grace's recovery (though in the film, she never says this out loud).


  • In The Evil Wizard Smallbone, the titular evil wizard tells Nick that his name is Foxkin now because it suits him. Nick, who is a clever, mischievous, and unscrupulous orphan, later learns how to shapeshift into a creature that matches his nature, a fox. Throughout the novel, Nick appears to be the only apprentice the cantankerous Smallbone can put up with. Near the end, it's revealed that the creature who best matches his nature is also a fox, though his is a red fox as opposed to Nick's gray fox.
  • 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 symbolize 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 Sirius gives him at the end of the book symbolizes 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 Counsellor, 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".
  • In Lords and Ladies, Mr Brooks the Lancre Castle beekeeper tells Nearly-Queen Magrat some interesting facts about bees, including that, while they'll attack wasps approaching the hive, they get confused if one is already inside, and that two queens in the same hive will always fight each other to the death. Later on, Shawn Ogg gets confused by the fact the elves are in the castle, Mr Brooks uses his wasp-spray on some elves while directly comparing the two, and finally Magrat attacks the Elf Queen while thinking "Only one queen in a hive! Slash! Stab!" And, of course, Granny Weatherwax's Moment of Awesome in that book is Borrowing a swarm of bees.
  • Black Widowers: The group named themselves "black widowers" in reference to the black widow spider. Widower is the masculine form of widow, and while they are present at the meeting, none of them have wives or girlfriends.
    the Black Widowers, who monthly met in their quiet haunt and vowed death to any female who intruded – for that one night per month, at any rate. — "The Acquisitive Chuckle"
  • She's Come Undone:
    • Whales appear literally and metaphorically throughout the book. At first it's hurled as an insult at Dolores's size. Then, she feels compelled to go on a trip to a place with a beached dead whale. Later on, she comes to identify whales with power, freedom, and nurturing.
    • To a lesser extent, dogs are used to evoke male misogyny and violence after Dolores is raped near a dog pound and comes to associate the violent barking of the dogs with the assault.
  • Toradora!: The title is a Portmanteau for the animals both leads have Animal Motifs of: Taiga as the Tiger ("Tora"), and Ryuuji as the Dragon ("Doragon"). This sets up a Tiger Versus Dragon dynamic between the two of them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Better Call Saul: In "Chicanery", Jimmy buys a goldfish to use as a cover for his visits to Dr Caldera. In later episodes the goldfish often appears in the foreground of shots, usually when Jimmy is planning criminal activity, and it serves to indicate that Jimmy is up to no good.
  • 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 dolphin who is sad because it has lost its mate. He tells it that he believes Toganga is his mate.
  • Frasier:
    • The 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.
  • 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.
  • Game of Thrones (and by extension A Song of Ice and Fire) has quite a lot, with wolves generally representing the heroic Starks, Lions for the Lannisters, and Stags for the Baratheons. In the very first episode, the Starks find a dire wolf that died killing a stag to provide for its children. Given that the first season is entirely based around the Stark and Baratheon households accidentally destroying each other and themselves, the symbolism can be seen as a bit heavy-handed.
  • Gotham plays with metaphors referencing Oswald Cobblepot's nickname, "Penguin", by having Oswald betray a "Fish" Mooney, and by killing a poor fisherman over a sandwich.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Isildur tries to tend his very agitated horse and can't for some reason. Elendil comes into the scene and quickly calms down the horse with a few words. Isildur is curious how his father managed to do that and Elendil explains that a horse can feel the feelings of its rider and will reflect them in its behavior if they formed a particularly strong bond.
  • In Robin Hood, the relationship between Will and Djaq is associated with symbolism about homing pigeons.

  • 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...
  • In "People Got A Lotta Nerve", Neko Case compares herself first to a caged elephant going crazy and escaping, then to a captive orca drowning her trainer. In the chorus, she proclaims herself to be a maneater, and complains that men are somehow shocked when such creatures eat them.
  • 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 Magnetic Fields' album 69 Love Songs features multiple tracks invoking animals symbolically:
    • "Boa Constrictor" equates the feeling of love to the experience of being asphyxiated by the titular species of snake.
    • The narrator of "A Chicken with Its Head Cut Off" compares himself to such, using the frenzied state still-living decapitated chickens can enter as an analogue for constant infatuation.
    • "Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long" takes imagery of pet dogs and ironically alludes to the Stock Animal Name Fido's association with loyalty to rebuke an unfaithful lover.
    • "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits" refers to rabbits' association with sex and fertility, the viewpoint character imploring his loved one to "do it all day long".
  • Angus Stone's song "Bird on a Buffalo" uses the titular animals' symbiotic relationship to represent unconditional love between two people.
  • 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.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: In "When Wedding Bells Thaw", Ice King gets cold feet about his impending marriage to Old Lady Princess. Finn points 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.
  • Played with in Total Drama, where two squirrels "lip synch" a conversation happening between two of the contestants in a mocking fashion.
  • In the new Samurai Jack season, the subplot for one episode is about a lone white wolf encountering three alien tigers and fighting them. Once the battle was over, it's become a bloody massacre with all three tigers dead and the wolf just barely still alive. It's parallel to Jack trying to evade the Daughters of Aku before killing one of them and passing out from blood loss.

    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.
      • The eagle as the symbol of the United States was influenced by the association with Rome.
      • 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.
  • Transgender people often use the cocoon-butterfly analogy to describe their transitioning process.