Character Analysis

How would you explain a character like Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol? Would you begin by describing his frail, elderly appearance? Or would you start with his miserly behavior? Charles Dickens wrote Scrooge with many characteristics to express his rude, selfish nature, so a character analysis could take several approaches to explain this classic character. Keep on reading for the outline of a character analysis, its meaning, and more.

Character Analysis Character Analysis

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Table of contents

    Character Analysis Meaning

    A character analysis is a deep dive into the traits and personality of a particular character, as well as a discussion of the character’s overall role in the story. Some authors choose to infuse their characters with many layers of meaning, while others simply use them to convey a message about something or move the story along. Either way, understanding a particular character gives great insight into the work as a whole.

    Character Analysis, Character Analysis Definition, Ebenezer Scrooge and Ghost, StudySmarterScrooge is an example of a dynamic character because his character evolves from the beginning of the story to the end.

    Why is Character Analysis Important?

    Authors use their characters to express meaning and convey messages to their audience. Daisy Buchanan’s (The Great Gatsby) ambivalence represents an upper class that has deadened itself to the humanity outside its sphere. Jo March’s (Little Women) carelessness with her wardrobe expresses her defiance of traditional femininity. Even Bertha Rochester, who is barely described as a character in Jane Eyre, is essential to Charlotte Brontë’s message about misogyny in her time.

    When writing a character analysis, you must pay close attention to the things both stated and unstated about the character. Authors don’t always explicitly tell you what they want you (the reader) to know about the character—sometimes, the writer wants you to come to realize things about the character for yourself.

    For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, Harry sacrifices himself to save his friends and win the battle against the evil Voldemort. J.K. Rowling never describes Harry as a martyr or tells the audience to admire his bravery—you should come to understand these character traits by reading about his actions.

    Authors typically give direct descriptions of characters sparingly. They usually provide an explanation of the character at the beginning of a story or when a character is introduced. This gives the audience a clear sense of who the character is and what they look like physically.

    Just because an author doesn’t devote a lot of time to explicitly describing a character doesn’t mean there aren’t things to learn about them throughout the story. A character analysis should include many details given directly from the author’s description—if one is given at all—as well as any relevant information revealed about the character in the story.

    Because much of what can be known about a character is not explicitly stated, a character analysis must be thorough enough to pick up all the details the author hides in the action and body of the story. This means you must remain critical of every detail related to the character you’re analyzing.

    Here are some details to pay close attention to while analyzing a character:

    1. Behavior – What does the character do? How do they act?

    2. Motivation – What makes the character behave the way they do? What underlying details drive them to make certain decisions?

    3. Personality – The things that make the character unique. This includes their perspective and any other distinguishing details and characteristics.

    4. Relationships – Their habits with other characters. How do they interact with other characters? Does the character you’re analyzing play a specific role in any relationships?

    5. What they say – What they say and how they say it can communicate important details about the character. Are they educated? Does what they say make sense, given what readers know about the character? Are they being forthcoming, or are they hiding anything?

    Sometimes what a character doesn't say is just as meaningful as what they do say. An omission on the part of a character can indicate many things to the reader; it could be that they are conniving, deceitful, vengeful, or perhaps just shy.

    Purpose of a Character Analysis

    A character analysis aims to gain a deeper understanding of the piece of literature. Because you’ll have to investigate the story's details to gather information about the character, you’ll also get insight into the story and the author.

    Sometimes it’s easy to read about a character and take their qualities at face value, not really appreciating all the nuances given to them by the author. For example, consider the title character Emma from Jane Austen’s Emma. It’s easy to read Emma as a selfish, entitled daughter of the aristocracy, but if you look closely at Emma’s character, her motivations to create love connections are more nuanced than they might initially seem.

    A character analysis will help you understand the author’s intent for the particular character and the whole story. The point of a character analysis is not only to better understand the character, but also the mind that created the character (i.e., the author).

    How to Write a Character Analysis

    You may have to write a character analysis essay as a school assignment. If so, the first thing to do is to read the text. To conduct a rich character analysis, you need to know the context of the character, which means reading the entirety of the story.

    While reading the story, take notes about any specific details that you think are important to discuss in the character analysis (refer to the list above for things to pay attention to). This will make it easier for you to remember the significant details of the character and their personality.

    You may have already read the story, so perhaps all you need to do is to find a few key passages that shed some light on the character you’re analyzing.

    Character Analysis, How to Write a Character Analysis, Faces Carved in Stone, StudySmarterDifferent characters have different defining characteristics. Similarly, one character can have a variety of character traits.

    There are several types of characters found in literature, and each type has a few defining characteristics that may help you better understand a character.

    This is the main character in the story. They must act for the story to move forward.

    Mary Lennox (The Secret Garden) is the protagonist whose actions drive the story of The Secret Garden.

    This character exists to create conflict for the protagonist, even just for a short time in the story. Similar to a villain, but not necessarily evil.

    Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) begins as an antagonist to Elizabeth Bennett.

    This is a character who plays a significant role in the story. They may fall under one or more other character types.

    Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings) is a major supporting character.

    This is a character who does not play a large role in the story.

    Gollum, also known as Sméagol (The Lord of the Rings), is not a major character, but he is seen frequently in the story.

    A dynamic character transforms in some way(s) over the course of the story. The protagonist and antagonist tend to be dynamic characters.

    Dorian Gray (The Picture of Dorian Gray) changes from a charming young socialite to a heinous murderer.

    This is the opposite of a dynamic character; static characters stay mostly the same throughout the story. That is not to say they are boring or not worth analyzing; they simply do not evolve.

    Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes series) has a static personality that doesn't change much, if at all, from book to book.

    Stock characters could also be called stereotypes—this is a character that represents a type of person that is recognizable as belonging to a certain group.

    Lady Macbeth (Macbeth) is an example of the “dark lady” stock character type, meaning she is tragic and doomed.

    Some characters may fit into more than one category.

    Character Analysis Main Idea

    The next step is to choose the main idea for character analysis.

    The main idea of an essay is the writer’s position or principal concept they would like to express.

    The main idea of your character analysis will be whatever message you’d like to express about that character. That could be a comparison to another well-known character or a contrast between another character in the book. Your main idea could be a new perspective about the character; perhaps you see the hero as a true villain.

    The main idea of your character analysis might go beyond the scope of that character to reveal some insight into ideas and themes that the author uses that specific character to communicate. Regardless of the message, you must be prepared to defend your character analysis with supporting evidence from the text.

    The best support for the main idea of a character analysis is evidence from the text. Quotes and examples to illustrate your point will be the most effective tools at your disposal. You may also find it helpful to use outside facts, data, or statistics to support your idea.

    Character Analysis Outline

    An entire essay may be devoted to character analysis. In this case, your main idea will also serve as your thesis statement.

    A thesis statement is a single, declarative sentence that summarizes the main point of an essay.

    An outline for a character analysis essay could look like this:


    1. Introduction to the literary work and character, thesis statement

    2. Body paragraphs

      • 1st body paragraph: description of physical appearance and background

      • 2nd body paragraph: discuss strengths and weaknesses as seen in the story

      • 3rd paragraph: conflicts involving the character, and their role in conflict resolution

    3. Conclusion: summary of key points, including the thesis and final thoughts on the character

    You could also discuss the character according to their characteristics and write your body paragraphs characteristic by characteristic—as seen in different scenes of the story.

    Character Analysis Example

    Here is an example of a character analysis essay outline. This essay will analyze the character Jem Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee.


    1. Introduction

      • Introduce the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

      • Brief description of plot synopsis

      • A short list of major characters (Atticus Finch, Scout Finch, and Jem Finch)

      • Thesis statement: Jeremy Finch, known to his friends and family as “Jem,” represents that difficult evolution every child must undergo, from naive and innocent to knowledgeable and worldly.

    2. Body paragraph 1: Jem’s background and physical appearance

      • Jem is athletic and, like many other boys his age, loves football.

      • Jem is adventurous, but his definition of adventure is childish.

      • Jem is a good big brother. He protects Scout from things that are within his realm of influence (as a child).

    3. Body paragraph 2: Jem’s strengths and weaknesses

      • Jem’s strengths are a lot of his father’s strengths.

        • Respectful - always defers to adults

        • Doesn’t back down - he exhibits bravery in their childish games.

        • Empathetic - he is empathetic toward people he understands.

      • Jem’s weakness is that he is naive and believes the best in people

        • Thinks people in his town are all friendly.

        • Doesn’t believe/ understand the implications of racism.

    4. Body paragraph 3: Jem’s idea of bravery changes as he matures

      • Jem used to think that bravery meant doing something scary without flinching (like touching the side of Boo Radley’s house).

      • Jem learns about real-world bravery, as seen in the people around him

        • Atticus faces the mad dog.

        • Scout stands up to the mob.

        • Mrs. Dubose’s fight with addiction.

    5. Conclusion:

      • Jem Finch is a young, confident, athletic boy.

      • He takes after his father in many ways, including his love and protection of Scout, but his empathy and bravery haven't been tested in the "real world."

      • He starts off with a childish belief in the goodness of people.

      • After seeing many examples of bravery around his hometown in the face of true hardship, Jem comes to understand what it means to have courage.

    This character analysis will be effective because it will describe the character Jem according to how he is portrayed in the book. Each body paragraph supports the thesis by examining Jem's character in some way.

    Even more importantly, the analysis will dig into some deeper themes of maturity and what it means to be brave. Harper Lee undoubtedly wanted the reader to consider these significant themes in the book.

    Analysis of literary characters - Key takeaways

    • A character analysis is a deep dive into the traits and personality of a particular character, as well as a discussion of the character’s overall role in the story.
    • A character analysis aims to gain a deeper understanding of the piece of literature.
    • A character analysis needs a main idea to drive the discussion. In a character analysis essay, the main idea is your thesis statement.
    • When writing a character analysis, you must pay close attention to the things both stated and unstated about the character.
      • Behavior
      • Personality
      • What they say
      • Motivation
      • Relationships
    Frequently Asked Questions about Character Analysis

    What is character analysis?

    A character analysis is a deep dive into the traits and personality of a particular character, as well as a discussion of the character’s overall role in the story.

    How do you start a character analysis essay?

    To start a character analysis essay, begin with an introduction to the text and the specific character.

    What does character analysis include?

    Character analysis includes a discussion of the character’s behavior and their role in the story. You may also mention what type of character they are (e.g., a stock character, antagonist, etc.).

    What are 5 methods of analyzing character?

    The 5 methods to analyzing a character are to pay close attention to their behavior, motivations, relationships, what they say, and their personality. 

    How many types of characters are there? 

    Generally speaking, there are 7 types of characters:

    1. Protagonist

    2. Antagonist

    3. Major character

    4. Minor character

    5. Stock character

    6. Static character

    7. Dynamic character

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When writing a character analysis, you have to pay close attention to the things both ________ and ________ about the character.

    True or false: a character analysis shouldn't include any details about their physical appearance.

    True or false: even if you've already read the entire book, you must read it again before starting a character analysis. 

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