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How to Write a College Character Analysis Essay

by Christine Bartsch

The basic concept of a character analysis essay is to assemble a clear, in-depth summary of a character as depicted in a literary work. At the college level, this requires students to look beyond the obvious information provided by the author regarding physical appearance. Students must make observations of a character’s behavior, motivation and role in the story to create a concise, accurate character analysis essay.

Begin With Description

A character analysis essay should of course include any information the author includes regarding a character’s physical appearance, such as ethnicity, stature and any other distinctive characteristics. Beyond appearance, a character description should also address personality type. When properly analyzed, the actions, reactions and behavior of a character form a picture that character below his surface appearance, such as bitter, angry, selfish, kindhearted, weak, stubborn or heroic.

Defining the Role

Whether you’re putting together an analysis of a main character or a minor character, it is important that your essay address the role she plays in the story. Some roles, such as the protagonist and antagonist, may be obvious. Main characters can also serve more complex roles than the simple protagonist definition. A lead character can be an underdog, an anti-hero, a tragic hero or even an unwilling hero. Discovering the purpose of a minor character often takes closer examination. Minor characters may be flat, two-dimensional people who remain unchanged throughout the course of a story, or three-dimensional, rounded characters who experience their own metamorphosis. These characters might serve as foils for the main characters, as older and wiser advisers, as sidekicks or even as obstacles the main characters must overcome.

Finding Motivation

Everyone wants something, especially a character in a literary work. Whether a hero desperate to complete a quest, a villain determined to stop him or a minor character along for the ride, each character in a story will have identifiable wants and needs. Quite often, though, what a character wants is in direct opposition to what he really needs. For example, a man longing for the attention of a woman out of his league might need to realize that he’ll only find true love when he sees his female sidekick in a romantic light. At the college level, character analysis essays should go beyond simply identifying the wants and needs motivating the characters; they should also address how the characters affect one another.

Addressing the Arc

While some minor characters are unchanging, most characters will be markedly different at the end of a story than they were at the beginning. While main characters, such as the protagonist, often make the most dramatic, obvious changes, minor characters also have a story arc. They might make only subtle changes, such as a sidekick quietly letting go to allow the hero to find love or finish her mission alone. The arcs of unchanging characters should also be addressed, as they will most likely have encountered situations in which they’ve made the choice not to change.

Get the Quote

At the college level, character analysis essays should synthesize bits of information to form new conclusions regarding the chosen character that may not be immediately obvious or even an accepted interpretation. To support your analysis of your topic character, whether widely accepted or controversial, bolster your conclusions with examples pulled from the source material. For example, if you’re suggesting that a sympathetic character is actually selfish and bitter, include direct quotes from the literary work that exemplify that belief.

References

About the Author

A former art instructor, high school counselor and party planner, Christine Bartsch writes fashion, travel, interior design, education and entertainment content. Bartsch earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communications/psychology/fine arts from Wisconsin Lutheran College and a creative writing Master of Fine Arts from Spalding University. She's written scripts for film/television productions and worked as the senior writer at a video game company.

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