How to ... Analyze and Describe a Character

Describing a character effectively is an essential skill in literature analysis. Stories are brought to life and captivate readers thanks to the characters' unique traits. Students can deepen their analysis and gain a more profound understanding of the complexities of character portrayal in literary works when they understand the different types of characters, when they are able to analyze narrative techniques for character development, and examine the impact of character choices.

Narrative Techniques for Character Description:

Character development in literature relies on various narrative techniques. Consider the following aspects when analyzing characters: character presentation (two types) and dynamic characterization:

Different types of characters:

Character in Poetry:

In the enchanting world of poetry, character descriptions take on a vibrant and evocative form. Poets skillfully employ imagery, metaphors, and symbolism to breathe life into their characters within just a few lines. Let's explore the various types of characters that can be found in English poetry, accompanied by two authentic examples:

  • Romantic Characters: Poetry often portrays romantic characters exuding passion, love, and profound emotions. An exemplary figure is the passionate lover portrayed in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet sequence, "Sonnets from the Portuguese." The speaker's profound affection and intense emotions towards her beloved epitomize the essence of romantic characters in poetry. Another illustration comes from Lord Byron's poem "She Walks in Beauty." The mesmerizing lady described in the poem reflects the poet's admiration for her grace and charm, symbolizing romantic beauty.
  • Nature Characters: Nature characters in poetry have a profound connection with the natural world, embodying its beauty, power, and transformative qualities. Consider William Blake's poem "The Tyger." The powerful imagery of the fierce and majestic tiger in the poem embodies both awe and fear, evoking a sense of wonder in the reader. Another fine example is Emily Dickinson's poem "A Bird Came Down the Walk." The bird's innocent and spontaneous actions reflect the harmony between nature and life.
  • Tragic Characters: Tragic characters in poetry often confront sorrow, loss, or inner turmoil, eliciting empathy and deep emotions from readers. Consider the character of Porphyria from Robert Browning's poem "Porphyria's Lover." Her tragic fate and the poignant portrayal of her descent into madness evoke profound sympathy and embody the destructive forces at play. In Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott," the main character's sad loneliness and eventual downfall express the idea of love that is not returned and the sacrifices made for art.
  • Mythological Characters: Mythological characters in poetry draw inspiration from ancient legends and myths, infusing poems with an air of mysticism and timeless significance. The mythical character of Prometheus, as portrayed in Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Prometheus Unbound," represents rebellion against tyranny and a struggle for freedom. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," the mythical figure of Kubla Khan personifies grandeur and imperial power.

By delving into these diverse characters in English poetry, we discover the intricacies of the human experience and the range of emotions that transcend time and culture. Poetry's magical ability to create rich character descriptions allows us to embark on poetic journeys that resonate with our souls.

Character in Prose:

To describe characters effectively in prose, read the following:

Rounded Characters are characters with complex and multi-dimensional traits, exhibiting a wide range of emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. Their strengths, weaknesses, and inner conflicts are described. Throughout the narrative we can witness their significant development and transformation.

Example: In Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Elizabeth Bennet is a rounded character who undergoes personal growth, challenging societal norms and overcoming her own prejudices.

Example: In Charles Dickens' novel "Great Expectations," the character of Pip is a rounded character who undergoes significant personal growth and transformation. Initially, Pip is a young, naive boy with dreams of becoming a gentleman. However, as the story progresses, his encounters with various characters, such as the convict Magwitch and the eccentric Miss Havisham, challenge his values and beliefs. Pip's internal conflicts and moral dilemmas, particularly regarding wealth, social class, and loyalty, drive the narrative and shape his character development. Through these experiences, Pip's understanding of himself and the world around him evolves, ultimately leading to a more mature and compassionate individual.

Flat Characters are relatively uncomplicated, one-dimensional characters who serve specific purposes in the narrative.

Example: In Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" series, the character of Inspector Lestrade often functions as a flat character, representing the archetype of the skeptical detective from Scotland Yard.

Example: In J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," the orcs serve as flat characters who embody evil. They also provide obstacles for the main characters.

Character in Plays:

Characters in plays come alive on stage through dialogue, interactions, and conflicts. To describe characters effectively in plays, consider the following:

Protagonist: the central character around whom the play revolves. Portray. The following elements usually shape the plot: their choices and desires, their driving force in the action and the conflicts they face.

Example: In William Shakespeare's tragedy "Macbeth," Macbeth himself is the protagonist whose ambitious pursuit of power leads to his downfall.

Example: In Henrik Ibsen's play "A Doll's House," Nora Helmer is the protagonist who challenges societal expectations and seeks personal freedom.

Antagonist: the character who opposes the protagonist, creating tension and conflict. They often embody the contrasting values.

Example: In Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello," Iago serves as the primary antagonist. He is driven by envy and succeeds in manipulating those around him to destroy Othello's life.

Example: In Tennessee Williams' play "A Streetcar Named Desire," Stanley Kowalski serves as an antagonist to Blanche DuBois. He represents a clash of values and a threat to her fragile existence.

Foil Characters (Contrast Character): characters who contrast with others. Their differing traits or qualities are emphasized. They provide a basis for comparison.

Example: In Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," Mercutio serves as a foil to Romeo, embodying a carefree and cynical outlook on love.

Example: In Shakespeare's "Macbeth," Banquo's loyalty and skepticism serve as a foil to Macbeth's ambition and moral decline.

Other Characters: some characters are used to provide comic relief, such as the humorous Porter in "Macbeth," while stock characters embody common stereotypes and fulfil specific dramatic functions.

Example: In Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," the character of the Nurse provides comic relief with her bawdy humor and earthy personality.

Example: In William Shakespeare's play "Hamlet," the character of Polonius serves as a stock character of a pompous, verbose and nosy courtier court advisor.

By exploring character types in poetry, prose, and plays, students can develop the skills necessary to analyze characters with nuance and precision. From the archetypes in poetry to the multifaceted individuals in prose and the dynamic interactions on the stage, characters offer a rich landscape for exploration. By applying the techniques and insights provided, students can unlock the depth and complexity of characters in literary works and enhance their overall understanding and appreciation of literature.

LnT suggests

LnT Brooks, Peter. "Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative." Harvard University Press, 1992.

LnT Cuddon, J.A. "A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory." Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

LnT Frye, Northrop. "Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays." Princeton University Press, 1957.

LnT Propp, Vladimir. "Morphology of the Folktale." University of Texas Press, 1968.

LnT Lodge, David. "The Art of Fiction." Vintage, 1992.