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Notes on Character

Character in literature is an extended verbal representation of a human being (animal/object personified), the inner self that determines thought, speech and behavior. In studying a literary character, you should reflect on the character’s major trait or traits. A trait is a typical mode of behavior or response, such as acting first and thinking afterward, crowding another person closely while talking, or habitually borrowing money and not repaying it. If we can learn enough about a person’s separate traits, we can go a long way toward understanding that person. Sometimes a particular trait is important or dominant enough to be considered primary; thus a person may be “lazy”, “bashful”, “a winner”, or even “pig-headed.”

The basic requirement of a round character is that he or she profit from experience and undergo a change or development. Round characters have many realistic traits and are relatively fully developed by the author. To the degree that round characters have individual and unpredictable human traits, and because they undergo change or growth because of their experiences, they may be considered dynamic.

As contrasted with the round character, the flat character is indistinguishable from other persons in a particular group or class. Therefore, the flat character is not individual, but representative. Flat characters are usually minor, although not all minor characters are flat. They are mostly useful, adding background, local color, or service to the plotline of the story in which they appear. We learn little if anything about their traits and their lives. They are peripheral to the main plot and because they do not grow or change, they are static, not dynamic like round characters.

Authors use four distinct ways to reveal character, but remember that you must use your own knowledge and experience with human beings to make judgments about the qualities of the characters being revealed:

  1. What the characters themselves say and think
  2. What the characters do
  3. What other characters say and think about them
  4. What the author says about them while speaking as the narrator or observer

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