illustration of two red kites hanging upon a Christmas tree

A Christmas Memory

by Truman Capote
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What is an indirect characterization of Buddy's friend in the reminiscence "A Christmas Memory" ?

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Direct characterization occurs when readers are specifically told something about a character. Indirect characterization is more subtle and requires the reader to deduce the character's characteristics based on how that character acts, speaks, dresses, and so on. Readers can also infer information about a character based on how other characters respond to them.

Buddy's friend is quite childlike in a lot of her behaviors. We are told this early on, but Buddy indirectly drives this point home throughout the story. She loves to play and approaches many activities with excited, wild abandon.

It's always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: "It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat."

She's thrilled to bake thurty fruitcakes every single Christmas, and she's not doing it for herself. She simply loves to give and spread the Christmas joy. The fruitcakes are not for her and Buddy.

Who are they for?

Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who've struck our fancy.

She's also not reserved in her giving. The people that she is making cakes for are not her closest friends. They are simply people that she wants to give a nice treat to. We also know that she is somewhat aware of her mental deficiencies.

"It's because," she hiccups, "I am too old. Old and funny."

She weeps because of the reprimand she gets from some relatives, and she feels badly for her actions. She knows what is the right thing to do, but her emotional exuberance gets the better of her, and that is also something that is very childlike in her nature.

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In literature, there are four methods of indirect characterization that an author can use to reveal character:

  1. through a physical description of the character
  2. through the character's actions
  3. through the character's thoughts, feelings, and speeches
  4. through the comments and reactions of other characters

While Buddy sometimes uses direct characterization, in which he simply tells something about his cousin--"She is still a child" or "...she has never eaten in a restaurant, traveled more than five miles from home..."--he provides the reader much indirect characterization. Here are examples:

[Buddy narrates that his friend remains at home while he is a military school.]:

  • (method no. 1) "A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen,...her face is remarkable--not unlike Lincoln'd craggy like that...."
  • (method no. 2)"And there she remains, puttering around the kitchen. Alone with Queenie. Then alone."  
  • (method no. 2) After Queenie is kicked by a horse, his friend writes Buddy that she wrapped the little dog in a linen sheet and took her in the horse buggy to Simpson's pasture "where she can be with all her Bones."
  • (method no. 3) Buddy's friend tell him how excited she is about procuring a Christmas tree: "Well, I can't sleep a hoot....My mind's jumping like a jack rabbit."
  • (method no. 4) Buddy comments on his friend, "Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends?"
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