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What Is a Character Analysis Essay?

A character analysis essay dissects the traits, roles, and development of a character in a narrative, offering deep insights into their psychological makeup and their impact on the story's arc. It's a literary tool that unveils the layers of a character's persona. Intrigued by what makes a character tick? Uncover the secrets behind your favorite literary figures with us.
G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

A character analysis essay is a written work in which someone analyzes and writes about a character in a particular story. This essay is often written as a class assignment, though it can also be part of a critical review or analysis of a written work. The basic purpose of this type of essay is to consider and analyze a character within a story to better understand his or her nature and purpose. This type of essay should use different aspects of characterization presented by the storyteller to reveal information about that character.

When someone writes a character analysis essay, it is meant to give the reader a greater understanding of a particular character within a written work and how he or she functions within that work. Though multiple characters can be included in such an essay, it is usually done to compare two major characters or to focus on just one character. Minor characters may not be important or featured enough in a story to warrant a full analysis, though this depends a great deal on the nature of the story and its characters.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

While different formats can be used for this essay, it often includes an overview of a character and how he or she fits into a story. It usually begins with a basic analysis of the character, demonstrating that the writer understands what type of character he or she is analyzing. This can include labels like “protagonist” and “antagonist,” as well as more specific character types such as foils, dynamic and static characters, and even various archetypes common to stories. Once the overall character is established, then the analysis usually explores how that character is important to the story and its conflict.

A character analysis essay typically includes examples from the story to support the claims made within it, either through direct or indirect characterization. Direct characterization refers to specific ways a writer describes his or her characters directly, while indirect characterization refers to examples of actions or dialog made by a character to indirectly reveal information about him or her. Understanding these types of characterization is important in writing this type of analysis, as both methods are often used to reveal information about the characters. These examples can be used to support the claims or arguments made within it about a character and how he or she relates to a story.

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Discussion Comments


@MrMoody - I never got that deep. I focused on character and plot. My analysis of the character may have been surface level, but I did focus on how he moved the story along, up to the climax and then the resolution. If you want to learn about a character’s mannerisms and what he is really like, then how he impacts the story will tell you all you need to know.


@miriam98 - Back in high school we liked to focus on Jungian archetypes when we wrote these essays. Sometimes I think we were probing too deeply into the character, almost like our character analysis essay was psychoanalysis in print.

Some novels lent themselves to this type of deep character study more than others, like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. There was a lot of stream of consciousness in that work; the author was taking you inside the character’s mind it seemed. It was interesting, but of course that kind of work meant that it was open to a lot of interpretation.


@SkyWhisperer - I think indirect characterization is more important anyway, personally. It’s common to hear teachers focus on certain mannerisms of a protagonist, like the way he limped when he walked, or a certain twitch in his expression he spoke, or something like that.

These things may aid characterization but they tell us nothing about the motivations of the character. I would focus more on his dialogue and actions.

Indeed, if you read authors like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, most of the work consists of dialogue; these authors were sparse in their descriptions. The fact is we learn more about people by what they say or do and this should be our focus in a character analysis essay.


Understanding characterization can be a challenge sometimes. Some authors do not supply enough information in the way of direct characterization, and here I am talking about physical descriptions and mannerisms that define the character.

It all depends on the type of story and the nature of the character. My son brought home a story where the character was obliquely fleshed out as far as his external appearance, and my son’s assignment was to find six character traits pertaining to external appearance.

I have to admit that it was tough sledding, even for me, as I read through the story. Finally I used inferences to determine what I thought the character was like. This was plainly a story where the author focused more on the character’s actions than his external appearance.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books