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Character analysis (CA) is at the heart of literary interpretation. It is also one of the easiest analytical essays to write (don't believe me, do you?) Every literary author is creating a human being in every character. From their names to their lovable qualities to their hated traits, they are us - they are examples of human beings. Just to be clear we are talking about character personality – the interior character. Seldom to literary authors deal with physical traits unless they are being used as metaphor. To be credible, believable characters must think, feel, behave and believe like human beings.
Here is a simple mnemonic (memory aid, guide) to help you organize your analysis: 4H - Head (intellectual qualities) Heart (emotional characteristics) Hands (behavioral traits) Halo (spiritual dimension) Let's start at the top: Head- what does this character think -what do they think is right, important. What kind decisions do they make? How logical are they? Are they good problem solvers. These are all intellectual traits of a character (and a human being!) When writing an analysis you have to go to the text and pull out great quotes that prove or demonstrate or back up your interpretation. Heart - the emotional qualities of a character - how do they feel about themselves, about others close to them, about the world? Do they manage their emotions well. Can they express their emotions appropriately? Do they respond to others' emotions constructively? Do they respond to others' emotions constructively and without fear? Next, Hands: here we look at how a character behaves- is she an introvert, extravert, kind, thoughtful, polite, dignified, slob, thoughtless, unkind, impatient, rude, disrespectful? How does this character act, behave? Halo - the spiritual dimension of a character. Consider what they believe in, what they value, what they believe is really important in life. Are the tolerant, forgiving, vengeful. Spiritual qualities are not necessarily about religion or faith - they are usually bigger than that - they are about how the character views the world and their place in it. Do they have faith in their future, do they believe in goodness and what is right?
For some practice, let’s do a CA of somebody in your own life: mom? using 4H guide. Any creature with a personality will do. My Mom is (head) an intelligent articulate problem solver. She is very logical and a good planner. My Mom is (heart) fairly open with her emotions and tends to be a little sentimental about the past. She (hands) treats other people with respect and kindness and is always polite. She (halo) she believes in equality for all, independence and freedom. She always says she ‘believes in education.”
Your following paragraphs will provide examples of all these traits. In your literary CA you would go to the text for direct references that demonstrate/prove the traits you have interpreted.
A fully rounded character will be a combination of positive traits and negative traits and that is what makes him/her believable or credible. They will be 'fully dimensional' as a character. They will have faults and weakness, strengths and admirable qualities. Literary characters teach us about what it is to be human. They encourage us to look inside ourselves and ask, “Am I like that? Do I want to be? How might I be better?” And that is the heart of literature – inspiring you to look within and be better.
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