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There are four methods of indirect characterization:
- through the character's actions
- through the character's thoughts, feelings, and speeches
- through the character's the comments and reactions of other characters
- through a physical description of the character
Here are three examples of indirect characterization:
- The character's actions
In Chekhov's "A Problem" Sasha Uskov has cashed a false promissory note and his actions have caused embarrassment to his family.
- The reactions of other characters
The uncles of Sasha are meeting to discuss what should be done about Sasha's actions. One uncle, who is a colonel, proposes that they let Sasha pay the legal penalty for his actions while other relatives are considering covering the promissory note. He tells them,
Who says that family honour is a mere convention?....I am only warning you against a false view; I am pointing out the possibility of an unpardonable mistake.
Another uncle, Ivan Markovitch, wants to protect the family honour; also, he is sympathetic toward Sasha:
He began with saying that youth has its rights and its peculiar temptations. Which of us has not been young, and who has not been led astray?
- The character's thoughts, feelings, and speeches
Sasha feels that "Criminal" is a horrible word and he rationalizes his behavior thinking, "...that is what murderers, thieves, robbers are; in fact, wicked and morally hopeless people." He feels that debt is not a crime; after all, his uncle Ivan Markovitch and the Colonel are in debt.
When his family finally decides to pay his promissory note and prevent him from criminal charges, Sasha is relieved. However, rather than thank his uncle Ivan Markovitch, whose eyes are tear-stained, he begins to think about his friend Von Burst, who will be celebrating his name day and how he wants to join him and his other friends. Excited, he demands one hundred rubles. When his uncle is astounded and falls back in horror at Sasha's menacing tone, Sasha almost attacks him, threatening to give himself up to the authorities and embarrass the family, or even write another false promissory note.
His uncle hands him the money; later, Sasha thinks to himself, "Now I see that I am a criminal; yes, I am a criminal."
In "A Problem," Sasha is a rounded character—meaning he displays a variety of character traits. Sasha comes across as a selfish, spoiled person who is blind to his shortcomings. However, the writer indirectly reveals who he really is by telling us about his actions. Here's a number of examples:
1. Unethical: At the beginning of the story, he cashes a promissory note after forging the signature. Although the writer does not tell us directly that he is unethical, the reader can deduce that he is from this action. He is motivated to forge the signature by the fact that he loves parties—"friends, women and bottles."
2. Desperate: Sasha is in need of money to attend a party and so pressures his uncle for it. He attempts to get money from his uncle so desperately that his "face worked; he trembled and seemed at the point of attacking his uncle."
3. Unrepentant but real: Like many, Sasha can't see who he really is in order to start the process of change. He has threatened Ivan to give him money—one hundred rubles to pay the party—and Ivan does so. At the end of the story, however, Sasha sees herself as a criminal. “Now I see that I am a criminal, yes, I a criminal,” he says. This is in contrast to when, earlier in the story, he convinces himself that "he is not a criminal and has never been a criminal," yet he has done very bad things. The very act of forcing Ivan to give him money is a crime, just after he has been informed that the relatives are willing to pay for the money he got by forging the signature on the promissory note if he goes to the country with Ivan to work. This reveals his unrepentant nature.
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