Discussion Question 1 Prompt
Identify examples of personification in “Building With Its Face Blown Off” by Billy Collins. What is the effect of that figurative language?
In “Building With Its Face Blown Off” by Billy Collins, the poet uses personification to give human qualities to non-human things, such as the bedroom, the bathroom, the broken furniture, the shoe, and even the snow and the clouds. Through personification, the poet makes the inanimate objects come alive and tell a story of their own, revealing the private lives of people in a bombed-out city.
For example, the bedroom is personified as if it had “answered the explosion wearing only its striped pajamas” (Collins 6-7). The previous example creates an image of the room being caught off guard and exposed as if it were a person captured in vulnerable circumstances. Similarly, the author mentions, “the bathroom looks almost embarrassed by its uncovered ochre walls, the twisted mess of its plumbing,” and “the sink is sinking to its knees” as if it were a person collapsing under pressure (Collins 13-16).
This figurative language creates a sense of empathy and connection between the reader and the objects in the poem. By giving human qualities to the objects, the poet makes them relatable and allows the reader to see them in a new light. It also highlights the tragedy of war and its impact on the lives of ordinary people, as the private spaces of their homes are suddenly exposed and destroyed.
In addition, the dollhouse view of the scene adds to the effect of personification by making the broken furniture and other objects seem like miniature versions of themselves as if they were toys in a child’s playroom. This image is both playful and tragic, as it shows the destruction of something that was once beloved and cherished. Moreover, the absence of characters, dialogue, and audience in the play-like scene further emphasizes the idea of the objects having a life of their own. It also creates a sense of isolation and loneliness, as if the objects were abandoned and left to tell their own stories, inviting the reader to see the scene from a new perspective and reflect on the fragility of human life and the devastating impact of war.
Meyer, Michael, and D Quentin Miller. “Building with Its Face Blown Off by Billy Collins.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2020.