What Is a Character Analysis?
The purpose of a character analysis is to examine a character so that you better understand the character’s role within the story, discover a central theme, or learn more about the deeper meaning of a literary text. To accomplish any of these goals, you may study the character’s personality, actions, thoughts, feelings, motivations, interactions, conflicts, experiences, and other traits. When analyzing a character, you can focus on aspects of a character such as these:
who the character is
why the character acts in certain ways
how the character reacts to situations and other characters
with whom or what the character is in conflict
what the character thinks or feels about situations, actions, events, and other characters
what experiences help the character grow or change
Analyzing an Essential Character Trait
Prompt: In the three-paragraph response, you will examine a chosen character—Antigone or Creon from the Greek tragedy Antigone—to analyze one or more of this character’s essential traits. Use evidence from the play to demonstrate the character’s essential traits. Your evidence may come from the character’s actions, thoughts, feelings, motivations, interactions, conflicts, or experiences.
You will be analyzing how a character demonstrates one or more essential traits. An essential character trait is a character’s quality or characteristic that can be seen through his or her actions, thoughts, feelings, and interactions, or in a variety of other ways. An essential character trait can also be an important aspect of the story. This essential trait can give insight into a theme, can impact how a conflict is resolved, or can affect how a story ends.
The table lists some of the character traits you may encounter in central characters.
Character Traits
arrogant
chivalrous
compassionate
courageous
cunning
diligent
fearful
honest
humble
irrational
oppressive
prideful
self-indulgent
trustworthy
virtuous
wise
As you begin drafting your character analysis, consider what essential traits stand out and motivate the character you are analyzing.
What should you include in your paragraphs?
A character analysis should include
a clear introduction with a topic sentence that states a claim about the character’s essential trait you are analyzing
textual evidence that demonstrates the character’s trait
an analysis that explains how the evidence connects to the character’s trait and that explains how this trait impacts the story in some way
transitions to clarify and connect ideas
a conclusion that explains the importance of the character’s essential trait and that summarizes the ideas in the paragraphs
Topic Sentence/Central Idea
The purpose of the topic sentence is to make one claim or to present one idea that tells the audience what the focus of the paragraphs will be. The topic sentence most frequently appears at the beginning of a paragraph, where the sentence is easy to identify.
Textual Evidence
You need to use textual evidence to explain and support the topic sentence’s claim about the character’s essential trait. You can use several strategies to present your evidence.
Strategy 1: Summarize Events
You can summarize and explain a key event or series of events. Make the connection between the event and the topic sentence clear so that you can ensure that this event is relevant to your claim and that it is an effective piece of support for your claim about the character’s essential trait.
Here is an example of how to summarize events in a paragraph that analyzes the character Ismene:
Topic sentence:
Throughout the opening scene, Ismene’s desire for physical safety is so powerful that she is willing to overlook her spiritual and emotional well-being in order to survive.
Supporting evidence:
Ismene pleads with Antigone not to defy King Creon’s ruling, reminding Antigone of how their mother killed herself and how their father gouged out his own eyes because of their disgrace. This plea highlights Ismene’s motivation for survival, since she and Antigone have seen plenty of suffering and unnecessary death in their own family.
Strategy 2: Paraphrase Details
You can paraphrase details to take someone’s original idea or details and put them in your own words. If you paraphrase details in your character analysis, make sure to connect these details to the topic sentence.
Here is an example of how to paraphrase details in a paragraph that analyzes the character Ismene:
Topic sentence:
Throughout the opening scene, Ismene’s desire for physical safety is so powerful that she is willing to overlook her spiritual and emotional well-being in order to survive.
Supporting evidence:
Ismene is telling Antigone to live now and worry later about doing what is expected and right. Ismene knows Antigone will die if she goes against the king’s will and may take Ismene with her to this fate. Ismene may care deeply for her sister, but she fears being alone.
Strategy 3: Incorporate Quotations
You can incorporate quotations—direct dialogue—from the text to support your analysis. If you incorporate quotations in your character analysis, make sure to explain how the quotation is used—and how it supports your claim about the character’s essential trait. When you incorporate a quotation, include information on who said it, to whom it was said, and under which circumstances it was said.
Here is an example of how to incorporate a quotation in a paragraph that analyzes the character Ismene:
Topic sentence:
Throughout the opening scene, Ismene’s desire for physical safety is so powerful that she is willing to overlook her spiritual and emotional well-being in order to survive.
Supporting evidence:
Ismene concludes her discussion of the burial of Polyneices by telling Antigone, “All right then, go, if that’s what you think right. / But remember this—even though your mission / makes no sense, your friends do truly love you.” Here, Ismene is telling Antigone that she sees Antigone’s actions as illogical.
Analysis
The next step in writing your paragraphs is to provide reasoning, or analysis, that explains how the pieces of evidence you have gathered support your topic sentence.
To compose your reasoning, consider each piece of evidence alongside the topic sentence that it supports. Then explain in your own words how the evidence supports the topic sentence. This explanation will be the first draft of the reasoning you provide within your paragraph. Here is an example:
Topic sentence:
Throughout the opening scene, Ismene’s desire for physical safety is so powerful that she is willing to overlook her spiritual and emotional well-being in order to survive.
Evidence Type
Supporting Evidence
Analysis
paraphrase
Ismene chooses physical safety over spiritual well-being when she submits to civil law, defying divine law. By submitting to Creon’s decree, she is refusing to honor a basic expectation for a Greek woman—responsibility for the burial of loved ones. She defies this expectation because she knows that doing so will ensure her own survival.
Ismene does not want to meet the same fate as Antigone, so Ismene defies her responsibility as a Greek woman. Her will to survive is much greater than both her responsibility to her family and her obligations as a woman to help Antigone give burial rites to her brother. Ismene would rather live than embrace her spiritual and emotional well-being.
direct quotation
Ismene further states: “I’m not disrespecting them. But I can’t act / against the state. That’s not in my nature.” Here, Ismene is telling Antigone that she does not intend to disrespect her family by denying burial to Polyneices.
Ismene’s claim that she is not disrespecting the gods falls short of convincing. She may not have set out to disrespect them, but her action still defies the tradition of offering burial rites to loved ones. Given her desperation to preserve her life, it seems that Ismene is willing to sacrifice the spiritual and emotional well-being she might otherwise gain by following divine law.
Transitions
Transitional words and phrases are used to clarify and create flow between the ideas in writing. These words and phrases can be categorized by the types of logical relationships that they relate to. The table shows some examples of transitional words and phrases that are used to support specific types of logical relationships.
Type of Logical Relationship
What the Transition Clarifies
Appropriate Transitional Words and Phrases
cause and effect
how one thing led to, or resulted from, another
as a result, because of this, consequently, therefore, thus
comparison
how things are similar
also, in the same way, likewise, of course, similarly
addition
how things build on or support each other
additionally, also, furthermore, in addition, moreover
contrast
how things are different
at the same time, conversely, in contradiction, in contrast, on the other hand
chronological
the order in which things happen
after, all of a sudden, before, in the meantime, prior to
spatial
where things are in relationship to one another
alongside, among, beyond, here, there
Once you have written a draft of your character analysis, review it to examine the nature of the logical relationships between sentences. Then select and incorporate appropriate transitions to clarify and unite the ideas.
Concluding Paragraph
The conclusion should summarize the ideas in the paragraph and should relate to the character’s essential trait.
Revise and Edit
Once you have completed the rough draft, read through your writing to ensure that you have clearly stated your ideas and that you have responded appropriately to the prompt. Look it over for errors in grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
Before submitting your final draft, make sure your response is complete and meets the requirements stated in the prompt.