What it is
Character is traditionally viewed as a description of a fictional person. As a construct, it is made up of verbal or visual statements about what that fictional person does, says and thinks and what other fictional characters and the author of the text say about him or her. The reader, listener or viewer fleshes out these statements to imagine a person-like character, sufficiently individualised and coherent to establish the sense of an identity. In this way, representation of a ‘real’ person invites personal identification and judgements about the character’s morality and value to their society. This kind of analysis can contribute to shaping one’s own sense of a moral and ethical self and so becoming a way of enculturation.
Characters may also be created and/ or read as representations of ideas, of groups of people or of types that serve a function in a narrative genre. Questions of characterisation then focus on the ways a character is constructed both by the responder and the composer and its function in the text.
Why it is important
Character is an important concept in narrative as a driver of the action, a function in the plot, a way of engaging or positioning a reader or as a way of representing its thematic concerns. The way character is read is an indication of particular approaches to texts, be it through personal engagement or critical response.
Students understand that characterisation depends on assumptions about people and the world we inhabit.
They learn that
- judgements about character are framed by other narrative elements such as point of view, genre, focalisation, imagery, by larger discourses and by views of oneself
- representations of character may serve various functions in a narrative such as exemplars of perspectives or values, a contrast or parallel to others, drivers of action etc*
- we tend to impose psychological coherence on a series of thoughts, actions and interactions*
- contradictory forces in a character may raise questions about the nature of a unified self*.
*Advanced and Extension courses
Students understand that characters can represent types of people, ideas and values.
Students learn that
- characters may be a medium through which ideas and societal attitudes and values are conveyed
- may operate as foils for each other
- representation and interpretation of character depends on personal and cultural values.
Students understand that characters are constructs that function differently in different types of texts and media.
They learn that these character constructs
- combine with constructs of events and settings to create narrative
- use resources such as description, dialogue, monologue
- may draw on such devices as stereotype and generic convention to reflect values.
Students understand that characters trigger an imaginative response through identification.
They learn that characters may
- be complex having a range of characteristics or simple with one salient feature
- change as a result of events or remain unchanging
- have individual characteristics or be based on a stereotype
Students understand that characters are represented in such a way as to have motives for actions.
They learn that characters
- may be judged by the reader, the other character constructs in the text, the narrator or the ‘author’.
- are constructed in a such a way as to invite an emotional reaction such as identification, empathy or antipathy.
Students understand that characters are composed of imagined thoughts, words and actions.
They learn that characters
- are constructed through different modes and media
- reflect lived experience
- invite positive or negative responses.
Students understand that characters in imaginative texts are visual, verbal and aural representations of people who participate in the narrative.