Make your own free website on

Pierce's10th Grade Honors and 10th Grade IB Prep

Home | Binder Table of Contents Honors 2nd Qtr | Binder Table of Contents Pre-IB 2nd Qtr | MWDS for A Doll's House | WL Paper 1 Topics | The Black Cat | Prologue to the Canterbury Tales | AP Lit Curriculum Paper | AP Lit Standards | 12 Angry Men | Persuasive Essay Checklist | FCAT Essay Codes for Corrections | Turn of the Screw Rubric | Characterization | Archetypes | Another Thesis Statement Page | How To Write an Essay | Seriously Important Writing Rules | What An AP Reader Longs To See | Books Appearing on AP Lit. Exams | SAs | Expository Essay Checklist | FCAT Writing Rubric | Tone words | IB Vocabulary Unit 1 | Possible Extra Credit | 10 Commandments of FCAT Persuasive Essay Writing | Electronic Source Citing | Curriculum Paper IB Juniors | Curriculum Paper for English II Honors | Writing a thesis statement | Thesis statements in the AP essay | Arguments | What is support? | Analytical writing | Thesis Statements | Rhetorical Devices | Sample Essays | Helpful Links | Tone Words Update | The Pardoner's Tale | Contact Me

Details about Characterization.  This should come in handy.


Characters. Readers love them and hate them; we pity them and malign them; we cry for them and laugh for them; and most of all, we remember them. And that is why people from all walks of life know Boo Radley, Uncle Tom, Reverend Dimmesdale, Rip Van Winkle, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Grendel, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, the Wife of Bath, Macbeth, Hamlet, and countless others who infiltrate our minds and inhabit our hearts. But why? Why do they make such an impression on us? We care about them because we identify with them, or sometimes we wish we could. Any one who has at some point felt shy and awkward understands Boo Radley. Those who love adventure like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Someone who has been wronged or whose friend has been wronged identifies with Marc Anthony. And so on. These characters are like us, so we know how they feel, and think, and act. They are literary representatives of ourselves.

Many avid readers actually find themselves giving advice to characters from books. Have you ever heard yourself saying to a character, “That is so stupid! How could you do that? Don’t you ever learn?” We may truly feel as if we know these characters, and some people enjoy living vicariously through them, even if only for a limited time. Actually, some authors allow us to know so much about their characters that we may understand more about them than about the real people we come into contact with on a regular basis.

More than one-fourth of the AP Exam questions deal with character in some way, so you must understand how to respond. First, take a look at some AP prompts to see what they ask of you. The following excerpts are from AP tests from 1994 through 1999 in which 16 of the 36 questions refer to character!

These questions regarding a character include:

a character who is important but may be present for a short time or not at all

the way the author reveals his attitude about the character

the way the author uses stylistic devices to characterize someone

the way the author conveys an experience as a child

how the author uses literary techniques to reveal the complexities of life

what the author’s understanding of himself is

how the literary devices convey the impression of the incident on the character

how the emotional struggle within a character reveals the intent of the work .and many, many more



Most authors don’t explain characters totally as they are introduced. There are both direct and indirect ways to learn, and quite often authors use more than one way in the same work. And when you read closely, you will discover that you know more about the characters than you think you do.


1. The author states information about a character giving an authoritative feel to that information. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne describes Hester Prynne:

“The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes. She was ladylike, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterized by a certain state and dignity....”

2. Another direct method of characterization is that of statements or descriptions by other characters. The following example is from The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell.

“He received me very courteously; but, it must be confessed, that his apartment, and furniture, and morning dress, were sufficiently uncouth. His brown suit of clothes looked very rusty; he had on a little old shriveled unpowdered wig, which was too small for his head; his shirtneck and knees of his breeches were loose; his black worsted stockings ill drawn up; and he had a pair of unbuckled shoes by way of slippers. But all these slovenly particularities were forgotten the moment that he began to talk.”



3. A description of the environment told by the author or a character is an indirect method of characterization from which the reader can infer information about the characters. The following excerpt from Grendel by John Gardner is a description of the lake where the monster lives with his mother; their home is at the bottom of this lake. The passage hints that only a horrible kind of monster could live there!

where water pours

From the rocks, then runs underground, where mist

Steams like black clouds, and the groves of trees

Growing out over their lake are all covered

With frozen spray, and wind down snakelike

Roots that reach as far as the water

And help keep it dark. At night that lake

Burns like a torch. No one knows its bottom,

No wisdom reaches such depths. A deer,

Hunted through the woods by packs of hounds,

A stag with great horns, though driven through the forest

From faraway places, prefers to die

On those shores, refuses to save its life

In that water. It isn’t far, nor is it

A pleasant spot! When the wind stirs

And storms, waves splash toward the sky,

As dark as the air, as black as the rain

That the heavens weep. Our only help,

Again, lies with you. Grendel’s mother

Is hidden in her terrible home, in a place

You’ve not seen. Seek it, if you dare!’


4. The character’s actions tell the reader about him/her

This excerpt from Uncle Tom’s Cabin reveals the determination, courage, and desperation of Eliza, a slave, who flees with her child rather than have him sold and separated from her. She runs across slabs of ice on a river to save him. The implication, of course, is that she is daring and brave and willing to risk her life to save her child.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

“A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her chili!, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her, just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water’s edge. Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap--impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it.”

“The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she stayed there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake--stumbling--leaping--slipping--springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone--her stockings cut from her feet--while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank”

5. A character’s name can sometimes tell an observant reader much. An allegory is an obvious example of a name representing something abstract, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the best known example. This narrative relates Christian’s efforts to overcome ungodliness represented by “Vanity Fair” and the “Slough of Despond.” The allegory also refers to Hopeful, Faith, Piety, and other characters.

Other examples of meaningful names come from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter: (1) Pearl, the physical embodiment of the scarlet letter worn by her mother, named Pearl because Hester considered her “as being of great price--purchased with all she (Hester) had.” Then there is Chillingworth, the betrayed husband who becomes “cold-hearted” and demonic. And, of course, there is Dimmesdale, fading away as he is consumed by hidden sin.

In addition, there is Phoenix Jackson from Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path.” Phoenix, like the legendary bird known for regeneration, is able to find the strength to “regenerate” herself, to walk to town, despite obstacles and age, to get medicine for her grandson. Another example of the importance of a name is that of Fortunato from “Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe. In this instance, however, the name is ironic because Fortunato is anything but fortunate since he is buried alive in the story.

And how many Star Wars fans realize the significance of the name Luke Sky walker? Does he not travel (walk) the skies? And have you ever considered the Latin translation of Darth Vader? It translates to dark father!

Keep in mind that a name can tell a story, so be observant.



These are the basic characters found in literature. As you read an assignment, consider how the characters might be classified.

1. ROUND characters are complex characters; there is enough information about them to make them memorable. Round characters are usually DYNAMIC - they change or adjust to different situations; the protagonist is usually a dynamic character.

2. FLAT characters have only one or two traits; they are simple. Flat characters are most often STATIC--usually minor characters; they do not grow because they lack insight.

3. STEREOTYPE is a kind of character found in different literature; examples include the overbearing mother, the cunning detective, the nosy neighbor, the hen-pecked husband, and the nagging wife.