Guide to Literary Terms

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What is characterization and what methods do authors use to provide characterizing details?

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Characterization in drama involves some different aspects.  In character-driven dramas, for instance, there is implicit characterization in which the audience is drawn into their inner turmoils as they are developed over the course of the play. Since the actors who assume these roles must characterize over an extended period of time, there is usually no direct statement of who the character is at any particular point so that the audience does not recognize a realistic characterization right away.  Such playwrights as Anton Chekhov uses this type of characterization in such plays as The Cherry Orchard in which he portrays the social climate of Russia when the aristocrats and land-owning gentry were losing their wealth.  Over the course of the play, the audience perceives that Ranevsky is unable to adjust to the changes as, when faced with the loss of her beloved orchard, she is unable to save it. She is a kind and generous woman who is irresponsible regarding money and life.  After fleeing her tragic past in Paris, she takes a villain for a lover and is swindled out of her money by him; then, he leaves her for another woman in this tragicomedy.

In other dramas, however, there may be stock characters, who represent a certain "type" of person in a simplification; there may be archetypal characters that represent a "type" in its greatness.  Of course, in tragedies, especially the classic tragedies such as Oedipus Rex, there are clear definitions (according to Aristotle's Poetics) of the tragic hero who must have hubris, an arrogance, and commit a tragic mistake, hamartia. He/she must also be of a noble nature and his/her downfall must be of his/her own fault. Nevertheless, the tragic hero's downfall is not wholly deserved and this downfall does have some positive results.  For instance, Oedipus learns that he has been married to his mother and has killed his father.  After blinding himself, he is greatly humbled and turns to his children whom he lives with and to whom he becomes devoted.

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Characterization is how a writer depicts a character either directly or indirectly.

Direct characterization is done through (exactly as it sounds) directly describing the character.  This is expository writing where the author gives descriptions of appearance or personality just by saying it straight.

Indirect characterization can be done in one of five ways:

  1. dialogue
  2. actions
  3. thoughts
  4. reactions of others
  5. appearance

Basically, indirect characterization is when an author reveals a character's personality indirectly through these other five avenues of description.  It is more common (obviously because it is less overt and therefore less boring) and requires inferences made by the reader.

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What is characterization? Discuss the various mthods that a novelist or a dramatist uses to provide characterizing details.Introduction to English literature.

Characterization can be broken down into two forms: direct characterization and indirect characterization.

Direct characterization involves the author explicitly telling the reader about the character. For example, "George was a tall, wise man."

Indirect characterization involves the writer suggesting something about a character without directly stating it. For example, rather than telling us George is smart, the writer might create a situation in which George demonstrates his intelligence and from that we infer that he is smart.

There are five methods of indirect characterization:

  1. Appearance;
  2. Speech;
  3. Actions;
  4. Private thoughts; and
  5. What others think.

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