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Character – questions

March 18, 2011

“A character is interesting as it comes out, and by the process and duration of that emergence; just as a procession is effective by the way it unrolls, turning to a mere  mob if it all passes at once.”[1]

“The anecdote consists, ever, of something that has oddly happened to some one, and the first of its duties is to point directly to the person whom it so distinguishes.”[2]


I have a whole list of questions I put to a text when I analyse it.  Not every question is relevant to every text, but they get me thinking. These are the ones I relate to character analysis:


– Who is the villain and what do they threaten?

– How is the hero made heroic?  [A hero exists because a crisis exists]

– Who is the hero? Ie what is their personality, who are they likened to in each society/ in the reader’s world? What kind of relationship are they in with the world and people around them?

– Who has the power in the story?  Who is obeyed and tells the other characters what to do?  Who makes the decisions in the story?  How is power distributed among the characters in the text?  Is bureaucracy or authority obvious? What is it and how is exemplified by character presence (policeman / boss / parent / school principal)?

– Who is the identification person (the person with whom the reader is most likely to identify)? (is there a distance created by keeping the id person out of the more disastrous problems?)

– to what purpose within the plot is each character put?

– what challenges is the protagonist faced with? How are they constituted? What do they reveal about the world in which author/reader move?

– what situations are the characters placed in? How are these situations revealing of that character?

– how are descriptions of certain characters / the protagonist juxtaposed with others?? If the protagonist is shy and retiring, for example, are there loud and boisterous characters, other shy characters… if there is a clown, do we get other clowns to compare him with?

– seek to understand the narrative structure in terms of character development…

– what is the force behind the idea of community portrayed?

Recurring characters? ie what type of characters keep appearing? why? (fathers, villagers, etc.)

Omitted characters? (eg children’s book – what adults are present/excluded?).  How does such isolation from ‘realistic’ community assist promotion of certain ideologies? (the elderly for example?)

[1] Xxviii Out of introduction to “The Art of the Novel, prefaces by Henry James…”

[2] Xxviii Out of introduction to “The Art of the Novel, prefaces by Henry James…”


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