Getting To Know You: Literary Character Analysis

Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13756

Do you know what it means to write a character analysis? Learn how to spot characterization, what to look for, and how to articulate its contributions to the theme in a story.

categories

Literary Studies, Writing

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:
  • What would you say are the characteristics that define you the most?

List three.

list

Now think of your life as a novel, with you as the main character.

  • How do those three characteristics impact the way you progress through your story?

Qualities and characteristics affect every aspect of a person's life, from how they view the world to how they relate to others and perceive themselves.

This is also true of literary characters -- especially ones that are well-written. Complex characters in literature reflect the complexity of human nature.

Our choices don't always make sense, especially to someone viewing the situation from the outside. However, if a character has a rich makeup of qualities, it is easier for the reader to consider how their personality and circumstances have an impact on their journey in the text.

When you write a character analysis, you are essentially considering the qualities, traits, circumstances, and behaviors of a given character within the context of a text as a whole.

These are the types of questions you might consider:

  • How do these considerations affect the way a character interacts with others?
  • Do these considerations make the character more or less believable as a fully fleshed-out person, or more or less relatable to readers?
  • How do this character's qualities and choices impact the themes of the novel?
  • How do they contribute to the plot (or detract from it)?

Let's consider one very famous literary character.

wicked witch

The Wicked Witch of the West first appears in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum.

  • Did you know there were 13 Oz books and many short stories?

The character became even more popular in the 1939 film adaptation The Wizard of Oz, and she continues to capture the interest and curiosity of audiences today -- most notably through the re-envisioning of this character through the eyes of author Gregory Maguire in his novel Wicked, which inspired the massive hit Broadway musical of the same name.

  • What is so captivating about this character who really doesn't have that much screen time in the original film and is treated as abjectly evil?

There's a popular meme on the internet that deconstructs this:

wicked witch meme

Dorothy Gale kills the sister of the Wicked Witch of the West (mistakenly or not). Then, she proceeds to essentially rob her grave with the help of Glinda the Good Witch.

All the Wicked Witch wants are the ruby slippers to which she is the presumptive heir, anyway.

  • Is that really so wrong?

Everything the audience knows about this witch is hearsay from Glinda.

  • But how does the audience know Glinda is trustworthy?

Gregory Maguire must have had some similar thoughts because his book series, that begins with Wicked, explores the land of Oz with a more critical, big-picture view.

The Wicked Witch of the West gets a name, Elphaba, and becomes the protagonist in this version. By following her journey, the reader begins to wonder if she was ever really wicked at all.

wizard of oz

When you examine a character from all angles, there is often a rich, complex person whose motivations and behaviors contribute to the web of a text.

A character who has depth and demonstrates growth or change through the story is called a dynamic character.

One who does not show such development is called static.

A character who has a one-note personality and is only known by perhaps a single trait or quality is called flat.

In the original novel and film, the Wicked Witch of the West is fairly flat and static. However, with a fresh perspective and the right questions; the dynamism of such a character can really come to life in entirely new ways.

When you're ready, click through to the Got It? section to examine example characters and traits to understand how they can contribute to a narrative.

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