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Describing a character for a character analysis

A strong character analysis will:


1. Identify the type of character it is dealing with.
2. Describe the character, using various measures as detailed below.
3. Discuss the conflict in the story, particularly in regards to the characters place in it.
There are different kinds of characters.
Characters can be
protagonists (heroes), The main character around whom most of the work
revolves.
antagonists, The person who the protagonist is against. This is often the
villain, but could be a force of nature, set of circumstances, an animal...
major, These are the main characters. They dominate the story. Often there
are only one or two major characters.
minor, These are the characters who help tell the major characters tale by
letting major characters interact and reveal their personalities, situations,
stories. They are usually static (unchanging).
dynamic (changing),
static (unchanging),
stereotypical (stock), This is the absent minded professor, the jolly fat
person, the clueless blonde.
foils, These are the people whose job is to contrast with the major character.
This can happen in two ways. One: The foil can be the opposite of the
major character, so the majors virtues and strengths are that much
brighter in reflection. Two: The foil can be someone like the major
character, with light versions of the majors virtues and strengths so that the
major comes off as even stronger.
round (3 dimensional), This means the character has more than one facet to
their personality.
flat (1 dimensional), This is the character who is only viewed through one
side. Thats all there is to the character.
Protagonists can follow literary patterns or types:
the anti-hero: They are often graceless, inept, and actually dishonest.
the tragic hero (Oedipus, Macbeth): This is the guy whose bad end is a result
of flaws within himself.
the romantic hero: Gillian is a romantic hero even though he does not win
over his love
the modern hero: This is the average guy who is put in extraordinary
circumstances and rises to the challenge.
To describe the character:
Consider the characters name and appearance.
Is the author taking advantage of stereotypes? The absent minded professor type
in The Stolen Bacillus; Minnie as the archetypal housewife who is completely
indifferent to her husbands brilliance, only in his appearance/well-being.
Is the author going against stereotypes? The drovers wife comes to mind; the old
man with enormous wings is the most unlikely angel.
Is the author repeating a description of the character? If so, then it is important.
For example, Kathy in East of Eden is described as rodent-like and snake-like,
sharp little teeth and a flickering tongue. You may not find such overt
descriptions in short stories, or even repeated ones. One place you can see this is

in Boori Ma or the anarchist: referred to as the pale-faced man: Is pale because he


is nervous or is he pale because he rarely sees sunlight, or perhaps he IS pale by
nature.
Is their name significant? Is it a word that means something, like Honour or Hero?
Does it come from a particular place or time and make reference to that? The
Drovers Wife has no name; the Bacteriologist or the anarchist are nameless too.
That is significant. Boori Ma is not her name; it is an appellation: shows how
people see her. Monis name is interesting though, considering the title of the story
is The Lost Jewels; and Moni is a jewel; a gem Well, we are free to interpret!
Appearance and visual attributes are usually far less important than other factors,
unless their appearance is the point such as in A Real Durwan: Boori Mas
appearance is described in detail...
Consider if he/she a static (unchanging) or dynamic (changing) character. If the
character has changed during the course of the story:
Was the change gradual or rapid?
Was it subtle or obvious?
Are the changes significant to the story or are they a minor counterpoint?
Are the changes believable or fantastic?
What was his/her motivation to change?
What situations or characters encouraged the change?
How does the character learn from or deal with the change?
Consider how the author discloses the character:
By what the character says or thinks.
By what the character does.
By what other characters say about him/her.
By what the author says about him/her.
The short form for this is STAR (says, thinks, acts, reacts). (or if you remember
your msmag: SADDR)
Look for these things within the creation of the character:
psychological/personality traits
Do these characteristics aid in the character being consistent (in character),
believable, adequately motivated, and interesting?
Do the characteristics of the character emphasize and focus on the characters
role in the storys plot?
motivation
Is the character ethical? Is he/she trying to do the right thing, but going about it in
the wrong way?

Is the motivation because of emotion (love, hate) or a decision (revenge,


promotion)?
behavior /actions
Does the character act in a certain way consistently?
Or is the character erratic?
Could one pluck the character from the story, put them in another story, and know
how they would react?
relationships
With other characters in the story
How others see/react to him/her
weaknesses/faults
Typical tragic weakness is pride. Oedipus is proud.

Weakness could be anything. In Little Red Riding Hood, the girl talks to a
stranger. Thats a weakness or could be construed as one.
strengths/virtues
There are many different strengths and virtues.
One strength/virtue is being good in trying times, like Cinderella. You could try
other kinds that are not so black and white- Gillian, for example?
Another strength/virtue is caring for family, like the Drovers Wife.
Another strength/virtue is being smart, like Nicholas in The Lumber Room.
Most protagonists have more than one strength/virtue.
moral constitution
Often a character will agonize over right and wrong.
If a character doesnt agonize and chooses one or the other easily, that is also
significant.
protagonist/antagonist
Does the story revolve around this characters actions? (Drovers wife, Tom,
Alligator?)
If so, is the character the hero (protagonist:-Nicholas) or villain (antagonist the
Aunt)?
complex/simple personality
Personalities are more likely to be simple in childrens stories, fairy tales, and short
stories.
Personalities are more likely to be complex in longer works.
Even in short works the characters personality can be complex. Then it depends
on what the author was focusing on. Boori Ma, for instance, or Mary Maloney in
another.
history and background
Sometimes a character analysis looks at the history of the individual character.
Was that person mistreated? abused? well-loved? liked?
Sometimes the history of the work matters more. Is the story set in World War II?
In ancient Greece? That makes a difference because culture changes stories. If
you dont know the culture, though, you may not be able to comment on this.
similarities and differences between the characters
This could be the foil aspect again.
It could be looking at how characters complement each other.
It could be looking at why characters would be antagonistic.
characters function in story
Is the character an integral character? (Mary Maloney)
Is the character a minor character? (the grocer in the same story)
Is the character someone who could have been left out or is gratuitous? (i.e.
superfluous short stories will rarely have such a character; longer novellas or
novels will have this)
Conflict can be many things:
External
man vs. man: This is the protagonist versus the antagonist. Mary Maloney vs.
Patrick; Bacteriologist vs the Anarchist. In poetry, Mending Wall, for instance.
Enterprise has this too. (look for this only in narrative poems, though)
man vs. machine: This is when the machine is the enemy. Many robot-centric
novels have this issue. (This is sometimes considered a subset of man vs. man.)

man vs. nature: the drovers wife vs. the snake; the fire; the bullock; the flood.
Again, Mending Wall or Do Not Go Gentle
man vs. animal: Usually the animal is a predator and the man has become prey for
some reason. Again, the drovers wife has numerous examples It could be
humorous, though, the man is trying to catch the dog, who runs away and has the
main character chasing him all over creation. (This is sometimes considered a
subset of man vs. nature.)
man vs. fate or destiny: we dont have a specific character in the stories now.
man vs. society: This is when a character battles societal norms. The poems offer
some hope here: Phenomenal Woman; or Breaking Out; The narrator of Do Not
Go Gentle;
Internal
man vs. himself: This is when the character has an ethical dilemma, stealing to
feed his family or watch them starve. Lie to the government and save the people in
the basement or tell the truth and have them taken away. This is the cartoon
equivalent of the devil and the angel on either shoulder.
man vs. his mind: This is the character with internal problems that are not ethical,
but mental. An example, as was pointed out in the comments, is the character with
schizophrenia or one who is bipolar. How does the character deal with his/her
limitations? What do they have to overcome? How do they overcome it? Is it
harder or easier to overcome something that is a part of the character than it is to
overcome something that is outside of the character?

Practice:
Write a character sketch for:
a. Boori Ma
b. The drovers wife, Alligator, Tom
c. Bacteriologist, Minnie, the anarchist
d. Old Bryson, Gillian
e. Mary Maloney
f. Bhusan, Moni, the Schoolmaster
g. Nicholas, the aunt
h. William and Philippa in Old Love

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