Character Analysis: How to Evaluate Specific Traits of a Literary Character?

Writing guide
Posted on April 8, 2020

Learning how to perform a great character analysis according to some academic requirements means that you, as the author, have to do a thorough reading of the literary piece, paying due attention to the plot, narrative, dialogues, and any metamorphosis that may happen to the main character.

Before you do an analysis of doctor Jekyll, Tristan, Romeo, lady Macbeth, Ophelia, Juliet, or any other famous or non-famous character, you have to keep in mind that the protagonist is the central person of the literary work. At the same time, the character that is known as the villain in the story where the protagonist is involved is called the antagonist. Most of the time, world-famous writers tend to create stories with multifaceted characters, which means your character analysis essay will have to reveal all of these complexities. So, what are the main issues that one has to know in order to produce a supreme quality analysis of a character or characters of a novel, short story, play, or a book?

First of all, you need to make sure that you really know what the character analysis actually is.

As a rule, world-famous authors never directly describe the traits that their characters have. Instead, they leave it for their readers to ponder over fiction protagonists and antagonists and catch these traits throughout the plot.

Character analysis requires you to not only choose the most subtle hints that the written work author uses to describe the scene, the plot, and the characters, but also to be able to see what the author writes between the lines and catch the tiniest details. For instance, you might come across a passage in a literary piece, similar to the one provided below, that catches your attention to some significant personality trains in a character of Hildegarde from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:

“In the early days of their marriage, Benjamin had worshipped her. But, as the years passed, her honey-coloured hair became an unexciting brown, the blue enamel of her eyes assumed the aspect of cheap crockery—moreover, and, most of all, she had become too settled in her ways, too placid, too content, too anemic in her excitements, and too sober in her taste. As a bride it been she who had “dragged” Benjamin to dances and dinners—now conditions were reversed. She went out socially with him, but without enthusiasm, devoured already by that eternal inertia which comes to live with each of us one day and stays with us to the end.”

Character Analysis Example: Choose Your Character Wisely

King Lear, Gatsby, doctor Jekyll, Victor Frankenstein, Beowulf – it’s up to you to decide which character you would like to analyze if you get to select one. The most important thing to keep in mind at this stage is that the character of your choice must be the central and dynamic one, such as Hamlet, Hedda Gabler, or Benjamin Button. Those characters who have no special motivations or inner enthusiasm in their behavior should be avoided when it comes to characters’ analysis. For instance, if you are reading Dracula written by Bram Stoker, do not even think about picking the brides of the count to analyze for the reason that neither identity nor origin of the Sisters, as well as the true nature of their relationship with the vampire, is never revealed. Instead, you’re welcome to choose Jonathan Harker or Mina Harker, because they are dynamic and leading characters who act in different ways and demonstrate a great variety of emotions that you’ll like to explore and analyze.

Read the Study under Analysis

At this point, you’re supposed to be certain about the character that you’re going to analyze in your essay. If yes, then make sure to read the book, plot, play, or any other literature piece that your character comes from. Even if you’ve already read the story several times, it is important to re-read it to have fresh impressions. You have to know who the main characters are, where they live (a huge city, an isolated farm, etc.) As you repeat your reading session, you will be able to notice the things you haven’t seen before. For example, when writing a character analysis from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, re-reading the book may help you to find out that in every dialogue the characters tend to reveal themselves. Harper Lee virtuously uses dialogues in her masterpiece to define each unique character. Scout, for instance, swears here and there; however, the readers understand that it is just a child that uses bad language in the most inappropriate situations. Calpurnia, in turn, speaks in one manner when in the African American community, while at the Finch house, he uses a completely different language. When it’s Bob Ewell speaking, you know he is there with bad news. In other words, the language of these characters serves better than the most detailed descriptions – the way they act and the words they use make you feel as if you’re talking to people in real life.

As you keep on reading the chosen story, make sure to consider the following:

How does the author of the piece describe the character?
In case you’re working on Macbeth character analysis, you might want to think about the way William Shakespeare describes one. For instance, if you don’t like the idea of doing Lord Macduff or Macbeth analysis, but one of Duncan, the King of Scotland, you should mention that the author describes him as a wise and fair king who is generous and honest with his people and kinsmen.

What kinds of relationships does the chosen character have with the other people or creatures in the book?
For instance, if you’re writing Hedda Gabler summary, think about how she relates to George (Jørgen) Tesman, Hedda’s husband, both – on the first pages of the play and at the end. Take into account the fact that the woman is bored with both her marriage and life.

In what way do the character’s actions change or move the book/play/story/novel plot?
Let’s say, you’re working on some of The Cask of Amontillado characters. Montresor is the main and intriguing character of the short story by Edgar Allan Poe. If you check any character analysis example on the story, you will see that the whole story is driven by Montresor’s desire for revenge. But what is really special and important about the way this character acts? In the case with The Cask of Amontillado, you’re welcome to talk about how the character demonstrates his skill at deception by the way Montresor trick Fortunato, as well as discuss how good he is at planning how he’s going to cope with the last resting spot somewhere in the catacomb and guides Fortunato to the place.

Does the chosen character face any struggles?
A really nice choice to provide a summary for is the play The Somonyng of Everyman. The struggles of the life of Everyman (represents all humankind) are the central core of the play that represents the allegorical accounting of the life of human beings. As an option, try to do Hamlet character analysis or, if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, choose to perform Drown (Junot Diaz) or The Great Gatsby analysis. In both cases, think about how the chosen characters grow and learn from page to page. Find out how Hamlet gets cautious yet reckless, how tender yet fierce he becomes throughout the story.

Provide Your Character’s Background

If possible, it is highly recommended to give some personal details of the characters you prefer analyzing. The point is that the histories of the characters usually influence their personalities, actions, as well as lifestyles. For that reason, it is important to talk about your character’s history, if possible. Let us say, you’re making Othello summary, and it is Iago that you choose to analyze. In Othello, Iago is a very complex character that impresses readers with his clever manipulations and their tragic results. To provide some additional background information, make sure to mention that Iago was a soldier, and that for several years, he fought beside the main character of the play – Othello.
What kind of educational experience does the character have? In the case of Waiting for Godot analysis, you might be required to analyze the character of Lucky. Pozzo’s slave is abused moth verbally and physically, and he has never had an opportunity to get educated. However, before you draw any conclusions, ensure to read the whole story, including the prologue and some notes provided by the author (if any).

Use Quotes to Support Your Analysis

Using quotes is a must when it comes to character analysis. Are you engaged in The Crucible character analysis? Check the chart of the main or supporting characters. Once you’re done with The Crucible character chart, and you know who it is that you’d like to discuss, make sure to pick the most suitable quotes to make your text more trusted. “Proctor, his mind wild, breathless: I say – I say – God is dead!” or “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” would look nice to prove some of your statements when analyzing The Crucible.

Do not forget to link the quote that you use to your sentence either after or before the quotation.

  • Right: The girl insists that “It is rare for people to be asked the question which puts them squarely in front of themselves.”
  • Right: “It is rare for people to be asked the question which puts them squarely in front of themselves,” the girl insists.
  • Wrong: “It is rare for people to be asked the question which puts them squarely in front of themselves.”

Quoting is a must, but don’t over-use the quotes. If you’re assigned to do The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath summary, do not try to prove your illustrations with dozens of quotes. Instead, search for two or three quotes that prove your statements on the characters of The Wife of Bath in the best manner. If you check the recommendations given by the experts at websites like Shmoop, you’ll see that most professionals find using too many quotes ineffective. Finally, ask someone to check and proofread your work. A famous writer and National Geographic Explorer Asher Jay insists on accepting counter perspectives and criticisms gracefully.

Time flies, when it comes to deadlines.

Franz Kafka, Antigone created by Sophocles, Thebes discussed by Oedipus – the range of characters that you can analyze vary greatly. You can choose a human being, an animal, or any other creature. It is essential that you are well-familiar with the literary work and are confident about your knowledge of the person in a novel, play, or film.

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