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Tutorial: Characterization, Essay Example

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Characterization in the composition of literature refers to the manner in which the author creates characters for the narrative. In analyzing characterization, it is possible to identify some broad formal rules, for example, direct characterization or indirect characterization, while also examining characterization in terms of the content of its characters, i.e., the type of character presented.

In the case of the latter, characterization can be defined in terms of, for example, variations of standard or traditional archetypes. For example, a mother figure is obviously associated with traits commonly ascribed to motherhood. Nevertheless, a mother figure of course does not have to be a female character who is a mother. Characterization in terms of content, although it may rely on familiar archetypes, may nevertheless transpose these same archetypes unto a character with which it is not traditionally associated. Hence, the aforementioned mother figure could potentially be conferred upon a non-human character, such as a city. Characterization in terms of content may thus evoke familiar motifs; at the same time, creativity in literature can often be associated with a technique of using these familiar motifs in unfamiliar ways.

Regarding characterization in terms of form, this entails how character is developed. Hence, a technique of form such as direct characterization will explicitly reveal aspects of character, for example, the generosity of the protagonist, who donated 1,000,000 American dollars to the victims of a Nepalese bomb attack. In contrast, indirect characterization signifies a more elliptical style of character development, whereby omissions and incomplete views of character dominate this development. A particular striking example of indirect characterization is Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, where the narrator’s true motives for revenge are never revealed. This adds a speculative element to the work, which arguably increases its sense of horror since the reader is confronted with an unknown in terms of characterization itself.

Looking at characterization through the lenses of form and content thus aids in understanding how to develop characters. Simultaneously, these categories are in no way separate or rigid, but can be used in combination or even eschewed entirely in favor of more radical approaches. They nevertheless function as a basic framework from which to understand characterization.

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