Essays about Character: Analysis, Not Re-description

In your earlier years, writing about characters by re-describing them in your own words was quite acceptable, but as an IB diploma student that won’t work.  First, you need to change your thinking from ‘character’ to ‘characterization.’ This last is the kind of critical thinking you need to engage in: ‘how does the writer create the character’ rather than ‘who is this character.’  Writing about characterization is something you can usefully do in essays and oral presentations and get good marks for these. Here are some hints that may help you to shift your point of view.

  1. Contextualize the character in time and space:  Where is s/he? When is the narrative taking place? How does the writer connect the character to these two questions and how is it conveyed? Are things that have happened before the novel, story, play relevant to the creation of the character?
  2. Who is the character? Are there class issues here?  Is the family important? Does the character have a profession? What does s/he think of other characters and how do other characters view her or him? Is religion relevant? Or government? Or education? Which of these angles or viewpoints has the writer chosen to include and how to they contribute to the characterization?
  3. Who is delivering the character in this story or novel? Or what kind of guidance does the play provide through such things as stage directions?  Is there a recurrent kind of language used to deliver this character? Does the writer use literal, terse language or is there a use of figurative language such as metaphors, irony, understatement, hyperbole, dialogue, lengthy description? How do all of these factors help to make the character distant, sympathetic, foreign, likeable, strange?

And yes, there are further features you may want to include as you look at how the writer has shaped the character.  The important thing for IB diploma work with literature is that you look into the techniques used to present the character and the effects produced by these authorial choices.

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