A character analysis essay is a popular school assignment, but it is often used in college as well. Character analysis is a great way to elicit core messages present in a book, play, or film by looking closer at characters' motivations, aspirations, fears, growth, interactions with other characters, etc. Besides being just another paper you have to write, character analysis teaches you a valuable life skill of looking at things from someone else's perspective and understanding people around you better.
Sounds interesting, right? This post will teach you how to write a character analysis essay, suggest some characters to analyze, and give a sample template to help you navigate the entire process.
Now, if you think, "I am too busy leaving my life and enjoying books and movies. I hate to write my papers!" then boy, have we a solution for you as well!
What Is a Character Analysis Essay?
A character analysis essay is an academic assignment where you have to evaluate the character's traits, behaviors, and place in the story to understand the entire story and its moral messages more fully. On par with rhetoric analysis, character analysis is an essential tool for studying literature, theater, and film.
Unlike people in real life, characters in books and movies are created deliberately to represent the author's idea about society or human nature. Character analysis helps to bring this meaning to the surface.
You can also analyze how author regards their characters. By noticing how the author refers to them, in what terms he or she describes them, you can assume whether or not the author approves of their actions, sympathizes with them, etc.
For example, the main character of the book is called a protagonist, while their opponent or challenger is called an antagonist. However, an antagonist isn't always "the bad one," and the protagonist isn't always "the good one." Sometimes, an author makes their protagonist an antihero – a flawed character who does wrong things or even is a straight-out villain. For example, Shakespeare's Macbeth, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Alex from A Clockwork Orange, Scarlett from Gone with the Wind, Humbert Humbert from Nabokov's Lolita, Grenouille from Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and so on. Understanding this context is crucial for character analysis.
How to Write a Character Analysis Essay Step by Step
Before you start writing a character analysis essay, follow these essential steps:
1. Choose the character
For character analysis, it's better to choose a complex and ambiguous or dynamic hero with a character arc. Someone who is only good, cartoonishly bad, reduced to a stereotype, or is a supporting character with few lines will not supply you with enough material for a good character analysis essay.
2. Re-read the book
Re-read the book (or re-watch the film) keeping your character in mind, even when they are not described directly in a scene. Make notes and bookmarks, write down some key phrases describing your character or said by them.
3. Define distinctive features
First, elicit from the text external characteristics, such as appearance, age, gender, social class, and race (if relevant). Then, choose 3 to 5 adjectives that best describe the character's traits, for example, loyal, honest, wise or innocent, curious, passionate. They will be the basis for your body paragraphs. Think about whether these characteristics change in the course of the story. How?
4. Define key motivations
What does your character need or desire? In musicals, they even have a particular number – an "I Want" song, where a protagonist shares a dream or most profound need. If the book (or a movie) were a musical, what would your character sing about? Friendship, love, power, freedom, or success and recognition?
5. Define meaningful relationships and conflicts
Conflicts can be represented by confrontation with other characters (protagonist vs. antagonist), overcoming obstacles (imprisonment, illness, poverty, ostracism) or internal struggles, like a conflict between love and duty.
6. Is there a shift in the character's views?
Sometimes the shift is sudden and comes as an epiphany – a realization that dawns on a character and gives them the means of resolving their conflicts. Sometimes, it's a gradual transformation – a so-called character arc.
7. From this change (or lack of it) elicit the moral message of this character
Each character was created with a purpose. Examine this purpose and identify the moral message that the character's journey embodies. For example:
- love conquers all
- cunning pays off
- loyalty is above else
- family is the most precious thing, etc.
You don't necessarily have to agree with this message, but you must know how to draw it out from the text.
Depending on the length of your essay or the complexity of your character, your essay will typically consist of 5 to 7 paragraphs and be 800 to 1500 words long. Here is a rough outline that will help you:
- Introduce your character (who they are)
- Give some background information about the text or film your character is from
- End with your thesis statement – the moral message you are going to discuss and prove throughout your body paragraphs
Each body paragraph should have a clear topic sentence. For a shorter essay, organize paragraphs by specific traits you are going to discuss. It is important to discriminate between meaningful characteristics and features added to flesh out the character and make it more lifelike and believable. Not every detail is equally significant in the story.
Three key characteristics form three body paragraphs. For each body paragraph, use at least one relevant quotation. However, don't over-quote; choose the most illustrative examples. Cite the quotes properly adhering to MLA guidelines (if your instructor hasn't specified otherwise) and anchor quotations to the text with your own words.
Alternatively, for a more extended essay and more complex topic, you can follow this plan:
- Paragraph1: Key personality traits. Scenes where the character shows those traits. How these traits transform throughout the story.
- Paragraph 2: Character's motivations, conflicts, relationships, challenges.
- Paragraph 3: Moral message the character's journey can teach us.
- Summarize the character's personality.
- Recap their role in the story (conflicts, relationships, challenges).
- Restate the moral message.
Character Suggestions for Analysis Essay
If you don't know how to start brainstorming your topics, here are a few suggestions:
Character analysis ideas for middle school
- Simba from The Lion King (animated film)
- Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
- Anne from Anne of Green Gables
- Edmund from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Snape from the Harry Potter book series
- Horatio from Hamlet
- Lady Macbeth from Macbeth
- Robinson from Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe
- Jack from William Golding's Lord of the Flies
- Atticus Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird
High school character analysis ideas
- Grendel's Mother from Beowulf
- Emily from A Rose for Emily
- Iago from Othello
- Huck from Huckleberry Finn
- Nick Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream
- The narrator from Edgar Allan Poe's The Telltale Heart
- Frodo from the J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
- Ethan from Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome
- Hazel from John Green's The Fault in Our Stars
- Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye
College character analysis essay example ideas
- Pearl from Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter
- Mr. George Knightley from Jane Austen's Emma
- Willy Loman from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
- Bartleby from Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener
- Blanche from Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire
- Jackie from Frank O'Connor's First Confession
- Jenny from Winston Groom's Forrest Gump
- Josie from Ellen Sussman's French Lessons
- Oskar Schell from Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
- Jasmine from Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine