DefinitionA character refers to a fictional person portrayed by the author in a play, novel, short story, or poetry. Sometimes animals and objects are also adopted as characters, but they are presented by means of personification. Characters play a vital role in the development of the central theme of a literary work through their dialogue, actions, mood and attitude.
Types of Characters
- Dynamic Character: A dynamic character is one who undergoes significant change in his traits/qualities such as, personality or outlook, etc. throughout the story. Through suffering, mistakes and experiment a dynamic character gains new experience which in turn makes him a changed man. For example, initially Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1843) is portrayed as a mean, bitter, and covetous personality. However, after his encounter with the three ghosts he becomes a generous, kind, and beloved man. In fact, the term "dynamic" doesn't define the character's qualities, but rather refers to how those qualities change over time. Dynamic characters are usually central characters.
- Static Character: A static character is one who does not undergo any significant transition in his traits/qualities such as, personality, outlook, etc. throughout the events in the story's plot. In other words, a static character is mostly the same person at the end of the story as he was in the beginning and all his actions in between stay true to that personality. Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen is an example of static character since his character does not change until the end of the novel. Static characters are generally the minor characters.
- Round Character: A round character is a major character in a story that encounters conflicts and undergoes transformation by these with a sign of emotional and psychological development. The character is complex and it increases in complexity throughout the story. Although many people place the dynamic and round characters in one category, yet they are not the same thing. A dynamic character does not tell about the traits of the character rather only tells about the traits that change over the time. A round character, on the other hand defines the complex traits of the character.
- Flat Character: A flat character is relatively uncomplicated and does not transform too much from the start of the narrative to its end. Flat characters are constructed round a single idea or quality and often said not to have either surprising ability or emotional depths, hence such characters are easily recognizable. Although both the static and the flat characters remain unchanged throughout the story, there is a slight difference between them. Whereas the former has two dimensions and can be as interesting as the central character, the latter generally has only one dimension and is only capable of playing a minor role.
- Protagonist: The protagonist is the main character or leading figure in a story, novel, drama, or poetry. Sometimes the protagonist is represented as an antihero. However, even as antihero the protagonist is able retain the audience’s interest and keeps propelling the story forward. For example, In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet (1597), Romeo is the protagonist.
- Antihero: An antihero is a protagonist who is devoid of all conventional qualities such as, bravery, strength, charm, intelligence etc. Such character usually possesses traits like clumsiness, dishonesty, aggressiveness, fearfulness, etc.
- False Protagonist: A false protagonist is a trick used by the authors to bring about an unexpected twist in the plot. The false protagonist is presented in such a way that the audience takes him to be the central character. However, this misconception is resolved when the character is unexpectedly removed by killing or changing his role, often into a lesser character or antagonist.
- Antagonist: The antagonist is a major character in a story who stands in opposition or creates obstacles to the protagonist. The conﬂict between the antagonist and the protagonist often generates the action or plot of the work. However, an antagonist must not be confused with a villain. The role of an antagonist is to oppose and create obstruction to the protagonist's goal, while a villain is a character who acts in opposition of the hero with evil intentions. While not every antagonist is a villain, it is generally true that all villains are antagonists to the main character.
- Villain: A villain plays the role of the principal bad character in a work of fiction. The villain usually is the antagonist who acts in opposition of the protagonist. However, in some cases the protagonist may assume the role of a villain.
- Stock Character: A stock character is a stereotypical person who is instantly recognizable to most readers. These characters are types and not individuals. A Stock character is based on clichés and social prejudices. Examples include: the professor, the wise old man, the everyman, the gentleman thief, etc. They are not focus characters nor are they developed in the story. The stock character does almost nothing to affect the main characters and can be easily replaced with a new character.
- Foil: A foil is employed to enhance the qualities of another character through contrast. Usually a foil is the antagonist or an important supporting character whose personal traits contrast with the protagonist or a major character. However, foils are not focus characters nor are they developed in the story. They help us learn more about another character or aspect of a story. For instance, In Hamlet (1603), Laertes has been portrayed as a foil to Hamlet.
- Confidante (masc: Confidant): A character in a drama or fiction, such as a friend or servant, who the protagonist confides in and trusts. A confidant serves as a device for revealing the inner thoughts or intentions of a main character. Her role is to listen to the protagonist's secrets, examine his character, and advise him on his actions. Rather than simply acting as a passive listener for the protagonist's monologues, the confidant may himself act to move the story forward, or serve to guide and represent the reactions of the audience. For example Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1603).
- Viewpoint Character: Also called narrator. A type of character by whose perspective or eyes the audience witnesses the events in a narrative. Generally the narrator narrates the events from several points of view or perspectives. Based on perspectives a narrator is categorized in:
- First Person Narrator: A first person narrator is said to have used when the story is told someone who identifies himself or herself as “I". This "I" can be the main character, a less important character witnessing events, or a person retelling a story they were told by someone else.
- Second Person Narrator: In second person, the narrator addresses the protagonist as "you." Often, this kind of story has the narrator speaking to a younger version of his self.
- Third Person Narrator is used when the story is told by someone who is not a participant in the action and who refers to the characters by name or as ‘he‘ 'she" and "they". In this case the narrator is not a character in the story. Third person narrator has two variations:
- Omniscient Narrator: This type of narrator knows everything about the characters and events, can move about in time and place as well as from character to character at will, and can, whenever he or she wishes, enter the mind of any character.
- Limited omniscient narrator: Also called central intelligence. In this variation the narrative elements are limited to what a single character sees, thinks, and hears.
CharacterizationIn fiction, characterization refers to the artistic representation of a person. It is the step by step process wherein the author introduces and then describes a character. With its help the author makes a fictional character seem like a real person. Generally authors resort to the following processes to shape and form their characters:
- Direct Characterization: Also called explicit characterization. It is a type of characterization in which the details and personality of a character are revealed in a direct manner. In other words, in such process the author makes straightforward comments about specific traits of a character, which may include but not limited to love, hatred, fear, habits, etc. An outstanding instance of direct characterization could be traced in Sonnet 130 by the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare:
- Indirect Characterization: Also called implicit characterization. It is a process of character creation in which the author reveals the details and personality of a character by indication rather than by direct statement. Too be specific, it is the audience's task to study the character and draw a conclusion about it. Through his imagination the audience portrays a true and vivid image of the character. Hence, it is a more creative and engaging process than the direct characterization. However, it is not devoid of shortcomings since the audience may make an erroneous or inappropriate inference about a character. The audience generally infers what a character is like by analyzing:
- his appearance.
- his thoughts.
- his actions.
- his speech.
- his interaction with other characters.
- his manner of speech.
- others’ remarks about him
- what others do to him
- his reaction to others.
- his reaction to himself.
- his or her environment.
Character TraitsIn literature each character reflects certain traits that guide the audience to draw conclusion about their specific roles. Some common character traits are as follows:
Importance of CharactersLiterature is an artistic representation of the real world. More like the real world the fictional world is also incomplete without characters. Therefore, characters are inevitable elements in a literary work. The importance of characters could be outlined as under:
- Characters help the audience to understand the overall message or theme in a particular literary work.
- Characters are akin to an engine driving the whole narrative in a coherent scheme.
- Characters provide ample scope for developing unique plots.
- Well-drawn characters compel the readers to retain interest till the end of the story.
- Characters help the audience for better understanding of human motivations in the real world.
- Characters help the author to maintain the gradual flow of the story.
- Characters’ dialogues, actions, attitudes, etc. are considered important elements for development of the theme.
ReferencesAbrams, M.H.. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. USA: H & H, 1999
" Characterization”. Wikipedia. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 26 July 2016