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What Is A Character Analysis Essay?

A character analysis essay can be one of the most immersive pieces of literary writing. It requires the writer to not only explore the literary piece several times, but to also imagine themselves in the role of the character, placing themselves in their shoes and understanding their motivations. The literary piece in this case might be another essay, a novel, a short story or even a performed art such as a movie, drama or sketch piece.

Simply put, these essays require you to analyze and profile the character, exploring the roles in the story, their physical and mental qualities and how they build up other characters as well. The character’s development in the entire plot is necessary to ensure that all their motivations are fully understood. This means that you might be forced to read or watch the literary piece at least twice to fully grasp the character’s motivations and backgrounds. The second time or third time you read the piece needs you to completely put yourself in the character’s shoes, imagining yourself as they would be and trying to empathize with their actions and reactions.

There are different types of characters in literature:

  • The protagonist: This is the hero, the one who drives the plot and who the story revolves around. Apart from the conventional ‘good guy’, the protagonist may also be an anti-hero, which is a central character who may not be possess your typical heroic attributes. In fact, some anti-heroes may be borderline bad but the plot may cast them in a role to play the savior.
  • The antagonist: This may be a character against the protagonist, but it may also be a set of natural circumstances or a power beyond the hero’s own abilities. The antagonist also has a running role in the storyline but may also appear occasionally or in a final confrontation or climax.
  • Major characters: These also contribute to the storyline and seek to provide added effect to the story. They might be dynamic or static, depending on the desired effect.
  • Minor characters: These usually take on minor roles in the story, and they are usually static, often interacting with singular situations or events in the storyline.
  • Foils: May fall in any of the above categories, and serve primarily to serve as a contrast to the character of the protagonist.

Immersive Character Analysis

Getting a full understanding of the character might be difficult if you skim through the literary piece or focus on specific parts only. If it is a piece of text, you might need to reread it at least twice. If it is a performed art such as drama or a movie, you might need to watch it again. The first instance of going through the piece is to provide an understanding of the various other characters and their literary roles, settings, climax and the evolution of the story, from beginning to end.

The second reading is where you go in-depth into the character analysis, making sure to note all instances of their appearances, the characters they interact with, and their development through the entire story. If the character you are analyzing is a major character, you need to understand and note how their actions move the plot forward. For anti-hero character analysis, contrast in necessary to showcase how they are able to move the positive aspect of the plot forward while they themselves may not act like the protagonist much.

If you do have the choice to choose the character to be analyzed, always choose dynamic characters. These provide more fodder to work with and let you explore multiple dimensions of the plot and the associativity with other characters in the plot. It is not unlike your instructor to ask you to select your own character for analysis. You may be provided with a theme and asked to explore various characters and how they contribute to that theme throughout the story.

Dynamic characters are the best types of characters to work on because revealing various aspects of their personalities as the plot progresses also makes your own analytical work exciting. As you work on the character analysis, you will find various aspects of that you yourself can relate to, and you may develop either strong feelings of resentment, hope, despair, empathy or motivation.

Writing the Character Analysis Essay

Once you have read the literary piece, you now need to start writing the essay. The essay prompt might be as simple as ‘Analyze the character of Jay in the Great Gatsby’. Or it may be tweaked to something like ‘Explore the theme of idealism through the lens of Jay in the Great Gatsby’. Understanding the prompt is crucial to successfully executing the essay, as you will know what to focus on before and after you have read the piece. As you go through the literary piece, it always crucial to make notes based on what information you have about the character at that specific point in time. As you reread the text, you will have a much clearer understanding of why the character behaves as they do and what motivates them.

Thus, it is usual to incorporate a thesis statement in the introduction that expressly states who the character is, what their role is and what values readers learn from them. The introduction serves to introduce the reader to the character, including a very short description and how they tie explored themes and progress the plot. The thesis statement should be definitive and concise, seeing as you have already read the text severally and have a clear understanding of the learning objectives.

The main body of the text serves to introduce claims about the character and also reinforce those claims with textual evidence. The main body starts with a detailed description of the character inclusion their physical attributes, personality and their background. Depending on the aims of the thesis, you might make definitive statement about the character and make references to situations which assert your derivations. Direct quotation, used judiciously, is often a great way to assert claims with regards to characters. Recurrent behaviors as the character interacts with others on the set will always be a great way to reinforce your assertions about the character.

The character’s development through the entire plot is an important part of writing these essays. If you simply refer to singular events without exploring the growth process, your essay will lack an important ingredient. For example, being a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you might Robert Downey Jr’s evolution from an aloof and arrogant character in the first Iron Man release, to a caring character willing to empathize with the fate of the entire universe in the last Avengers release.

Your conclusion shouldn’t simply be a restatement of what you have already told your reader. You might make a summary of main points but should also succinctly explore how the character bears relevance in the real world and to your own experiences. Slight rehashing is allowed, but even more important for the conclusion is to showcase your own analysis of the character and how it affects you.

Other Points to Remember When Analyzing Characters

Keep in mind that the reader is probably someone who has already covered the same material and so you might end up sounding boring and unoriginal if you don’t take great pains to fully understand the character. There are several ways to ensure that the analysis you present is original and written in your own coherent thought process. If you’ve covered the text thoroughly, ask yourself (with notes off course) and try to answer the following questions:

  • What motivates the character? Is there a variance between their words and their actions? Is the character idealistic or are they flexible in their morals? Why do they behave the way they do, whether ethically or unethically?
  • How does the character relate to their surroundings and other characters? Do they carry the burden of intervention? Do they feel that they are responsible for the well-being of others and thus always work their actions to these ends? Or are they pushed into hero status by their experiences or singular circumstances. Does the personality of the character show contrast with their actions?
  • What are the themes explored in the story? How does the character contribute to the overall plot development and what would lack in the story if the character didn’t perform certain actions? How are conflicts resolved by the character and how does the character represent the author’s idiosyncrasies based on their past works?

Aside from these, the normal rules of writing hold, and you should make sure to format your paper well and do thorough editing to ensure that all your ideas flow logically. It is always a good idea to write your analysis first and then compare it to other similar ones, so that you develop your own independent thought process based on your interaction with the character.

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