Studies in Prose: The Basic Aspects of Character Every Student of Literature Should Know

In this post, I will take you through aspects of character and characterization techniques writers employ to bring their literary figures to life. I will also show you how to easily find and add the ideas that will make your literature essay on a character a high-grade one.

Here we go!

What is a character in Literature?

In a literary work, there are what we call characters. Characters are the figures or personalities that people the writer’s fictional world. Each character is given specific attributes – mental or psychological, social, emotional, moral and so on.

According to E.M. Foster, a character may be flat (mono-dimensional character) or round (multi-dimensional)

Flat or Mono-Dimensional Character

A flat character is defined by a very small set of distinguishing features. Such a character does not develop as the novel progresses. They remain the same throughout the entire length of the novel.

Round or Multi-dimensional Character

The round or multi-dimensional character is mostly defined by a complex set of features. We get to know a whole lot about their biographical background, psychological dispositions, interpersonal relationships, reactions to different situations and ideological or value orientation.

Characterization: What is characterization in Literature?

Characterization refers to the formal techniques or information transmission that the writer uses to present to us the literary figure in their work.

Character Analysis: How to study a character thoroughly in a novel

The following are the things you need to do to get into the mind and skin of a character in readiness for your examination.

Before we continue …

Remember also that the skills you acquire here through your repeated application of these techniques will equip you with the knowledge needed to become a much better student of human nature in real life.

You will be in a better position to understand and appreciate how and why other people do the things they do.

For all you know, you could be on your way to becoming an accomplished novelist, detective, psychologist or investigator!

Now let’s get back to business. Here, have a look at the best ways to analyze a character in a literary work.

Note how the author develops each character.

You will need to pay close attention to the following techniques most writers employ to create their characters. These are the ways a character is formed into a flat or round fictional personality.

The Various Forms of Characterization Techniques

1.Explicit self-commentary

The character, in this case, functions both as the subject and object of information transmission. They talk to us about themselves. They explicitly articulate the way they feel or view themselves. We can only determine their sincerity and credibility in the light of their later actions and utterances.

2.Commentary, about the character in question, by other characters

Even here we have to examine what they say not only in their presence but also in their absence.

3. Actions the character performs

4.Authorial commentary. This refers to all the things the author says about the character.

5. The language used by the character and the language the writer uses to describe them. Examples include pidgin, high sounding, formal, informal, funny, serious, technical and so on.

What you should be doing as you try to know much about a particular character in a novel

1. As you read the novel, make rough notes on your observations and impressions of the character or characters.

2.Focus on these areas

i. Their physical characteristics including age, gender, attractiveness, height, size and any other peculiar physical features they may possess.

ii. Their social characteristics including family background, marital status, educational level, religious views, social standing, how they relate to others in speech and in action and so on.

iii. Their economic background. Areas to look out for include employment status, rich, poor and so on.

iv. Their moral characteristics (attitudes and values). What is important to the character in terms of things like hard work, honesty, faithfulness, pleasure, wealth etc

v. Their general strengths and weaknesses

What does “role of a character” mean?

Any time you are asked to write on the role of a particular character, you will do well to consider the following:

1.What the character’s utterances and actions show about other characters

2.Ways in which the character’s actions and experiences advance the development of the plot

3. Ways in which the character’s actions and experiences help develop one particular theme or themes

4.Ways in which the character’s actions and experiences move the setting from one place to another or help us understand the setting or settings.

5.How the novel would be affected if this character was not present

Major Types of Character

The following are some of the popular ways characters in a novel are described. That is, apart from the flat and round types of character.

1.Hero or Heroine: This is the principal character (male or female) in the novel or drama

2.Central or main character: This is the same as hero or heroine

3.Protagonist: This is the leading character in a literary work. The protagonist is usually in opposition to an antagonist. The antagonist is the one who opposes the protagonist. Not all literary works have an antagonist.

4.Supporting or Minor characters: These are characters that help support or develop the main character as well as the action of the story or plot.

5.Foil: A character that, by strong contrast, underscores or enhances the distinctive characteristics of another character

You may also like: What are the functions of Literature?

Photo by Prasanna Kumar on Unsplash

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