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Character analysis

Character analysis

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Character analysis

In a nutshell

The characters are a very important part of any story. Characters drive the plot and can connect directly with the reader. The main character of a story is called the protagonist. This summary will explore the ways characters are revealed in a story and their purpose. 

Common characters

In a story, characters can come in all shapes and sizes. A character is any being which drives the plot or plays some part in the story. Characters can be based on real people or they can be completely imaginary. Characters can be people, animals, aliens, personified objects or anything that the author can imagine. 


Often authors will use similar types of characters in their writing. Archetypes are characters which echo the characteristics and motives of similar characters in other stories. These characters may be familiar to the reader from the outset. Common archetypes in novels include the hero, the villain, the mentor, and the lover


An example of a mentor archetype in the 'Harry Potter' series by J. K. Rowling is the character Professor Dumbledore. Dumbledore acts as a mentor to Harry over the course of the series. Dumbledore imparts wisdom upon Harry, guides him through his journey and prepares him to defeat evil.

How characters are portrayed

There are many ways that an author can put across information about the characters throughout a story. This is mainly done through descriptions, dialogue and actions.


The first glimpse the reader gets of a character is often through descriptions provided by the narrator.


'Looking at her, you got the feeling that this was someone who could bend iron bars and tear telephone directories in half. Her face, I'm afraid, was neither a thing of beauty nor a joy for ever. She had an obstinate chin, a cruel mouth and small arrogant eyes.'

(Description of Miss Trunchbull from 'Matilda' by Roald Dahl)


Readers also learn about characters from the dialogue in the story. This can consist of what the character says about themselves but also what other characters say about them, which isn't always the same thing. 


"Mr Willy Wonka is the most amazing, the most fantastic, the most extraordinary chocolate maker the world has ever seen! I thought everybody knew that!"

(Dialogue from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' by Roald Dahl)


Another way the reader can learn about a character is through their actions. What a character does can often reveal more about them than how they have been described or what they say.


'Count Olaf's face grew very red. For a moment he said nothing. Then, in one sudden movement, he reached down and struck Klaus across the face. Klaus fell to the floor, his face inches from the eye tattooed on Olaf's ankle.'

(From 'The Bad Beginning' by Lemony Snicket)

The purpose of characters

Characters can serve many different purposes in a story. In order to understand why a character behaves in a particular way, you need to analyse their role in the story and how the author is portraying them. 

Driving the plot

Some characters are vital to the plot of a story and they push the narrative forward through their actions or decisions. Bear in mind it's not always the main characters who advance the plot of the story.


'The old man hobbled a step or two nearer, and then he put a hand into the pocket of his jacket and took out a small white paper bag.

"You see this?" he whispered, waving the bag gently to and fro in front of James's face. "You know what this is, my dear? You know what's inside this little bag?"'

This moment from 'James and the Giant Peach' by Roald Dahl features a character who only appears briefly with the sole purpose of driving the plot. This old man gives James the bag full of magic which James accidentally drops causing the giant peach to begin to grow. 

Character arcs

Characters often develop, change and grow significantly over the course of a story. The perception the reader has of a character like this at the beginning of a story is often drastically changed by the end. The journey a character goes on as they change is called their character arc


A classic example of a character arc is that of Ebenezer Scrooge in 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens. Scrooge starts the story a miserable, grouchy man but after visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Scrooge changes his ways. His character at the end of the book is almost unrecognisable from that at the beginning.


Some characters are intentionally placed to represent, symbolise or stand for something. Understanding what a character represents can be an important part of the story an author is telling. 


In 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' by C. S. Lewis, the character Aslan symbolises Jesus, or God. One of the moments which clearly shows this is when Aslan dies to save Edmund's life and then comes back to life. 

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