Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of direct characterization?

The definition of direct characterization is when an author, though a narrator or another character, explicitly tells the reader what kind of person a character is.

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Direct Characterization

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Direct characterization occurs when an author explicitly tells the reader what kind of person a character is. This information can be provided by a narrator or a character in the story.

Characterization derives from the Greek word charaktēr, meaning “graving tool, graving tool’s mark,” from charattein (“to engrave”). Direct comes from the Latin directus, meaning “straight, direct.”

Jane Austen uses direct characterization in this example from the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice:

Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.

By telling her readers explicitly that Mrs. Bennet is “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper,” Austen is removing any ambiguity about what kind of character she is.

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