How do you go about analyzing a character?

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pbjessop | College Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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Character analysis is at the heart of literary interpretation.  Every literary author is creating a human being (how fun is that??) in every character. From their names to their lovable qualities to their hated traits, they are us - they are examples of human beings.  To be effective they must sound like human beings, act like human beings and feel like human beings- and that is a pretty good place to start when analysing a character.  Here is a simple mnemonic to help you organize your analysis: 4H - Head (intellectual qualities) Heart (emotional characteristics) Hands (behavioural traits) Halo (spiritual dimension)  Let's start at the top: Head- consider what this character thinks -what 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!)  Of course 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? Dothey 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 theyvalue, what theybelieve is really important in life.  Are thetolerant, 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 havefaith in their future, do theybelieve in goodness and what is right? 

A fully rounded character will be a combination of positive traits and negative traits and that is what makes him/her believable or credible. Or, they will be 'fully dimensional' as a character.  They will have faults and weakness, strengths and admirable qualities.  A 'one dimensional" character will be all good or all bad (and boring but they may serve a purpose in the work)  Sometimes these characters are referred to as 'wooden' or 'cartoon characters' there is nothing beyond the surface.

Atticus Finch , the father figure in To Kill a Mockingbird is a fully rounded credible character because author Harper Lee has created a character with a human blend of positive and negative qualities, strengths and weaknesses we can all recognize. He is portrayed as being intelligent, tolerant, loving and kind.  He may be naive in overestimating the nature of his community, however he is heroic because he has faith in the goodness of people and faith in their ability to see what is right. Even when showing his disapointment, he always shows faith in tomorrow.

So that paragraph above makes a mighty fine thesis statement for a character analysis of AF. Now the rest of your essay you need to prove each characteristic (highlighted) one by one with direct references from the text.  Easy peasy! 

For some practice, you might try doing a character analysis of your mom, dad, sweetheart, teacher...go ahead 4H fits every character in our life.

 

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