Characterization in Fiction
In the previous article titled The Nature and Types of Character in Fiction, characters, or people, animals, plants, things, or other creatures representing persons, are one of the most important elements of literary fictions, including a short story, because they push the plot forward and they illustrate and personify the themes. All stories would be nothing without the created characters within them. Consequently, to get a deeper meaning of a story, we should understand the characters’ psychological traits, personalities, and other attributes. To achieve it, we need to examine the literary device the authors use to present details to portray and develop them. In literature, that tool is called characterization.
To avoid misunderstanding, character and characterization should be clearly differentiated. The term character has two different meanings. First, as it has been defined previously, character refers to the performer who carries the events that it establishes the story. They are the people, animals, plants, things, or other creatures representing persons who push the plot forward. Second, character can also refer to the psychological traits, morals or character, and other attributes that distinguish one person from others. Cuddon (2013) accentuated that character refers to the person portrayed in a narrative or dramatic work and to a short prose sketch of a particular individual type. Characterization is the method or literary device the authors use to present details that portray a character. Thus, characterization is a method while character is a product of the method.
To present a character, an author can employ two methods of characterization: expository and dramatic. The expository method of characterization is conducted by describing a character using explicit statements either by the author or by another character in the same story. The dramatic method reveals the character to the readers through action. In the practical level, this is implemented using five techniques, i.e. showing the character through how he looks, what he says (his speech), what he thinks (his thought), what he does (his action), and the other characters’ reaction to him. Therefore, combined with the expository method, characterization can be implemented using six techniques we can abbreviate as EL-STAR (Expository, Look, Speech, Thought, Action, and Reaction).
As it is stated above, at the practical level, the expository method of characterization is implemented by describing a character using explicit statements either by the author or by another character in the same story. In A Long walk Home, for instance, Bocarro describes Jackson’s father as a man with high discipline through Jackson’s statement. “I knew Dad would be angry if he found out I’d been watching movies. He’d never let me drive again”. In this story, the author never directly describes a character through his statement because the story is narrated by Jackson, the main character.
The second characterization technique, look, is conducted through his appearance, i.e. by showing how he looks and how the character dress. Using this technique, a character might be described as short, thin, fat, pretty, old, young, etc. The reader may be told the clothes a character wears or the color of his hair. In Gale's Bill, the author employs this technique to describe how wealthy the lady who is interested to adopt Minna by revealing the car they come with and the expensive dress they put on. Gale writes, “They came in a limousine as he hoped they would come. Their clothes were as he had hoped.”
Speech, the third technique is implemented by showing a character through what he says. In A Long walk Home, Jackson’s father is shown as a man of integrity through his own statement. Knowing that his son has lied to him, he is very disappointed. But, instead of blaming Jackson, he accepts it as his failure as a father. He says, ““I am angry, not with you but with myself. You see, I realize that I have failed as a father if after all these years you feel that you have to lie to me. I have failed because I have brought up a son who cannot even tell the truth to his own father.” To take another example, in Bill, the author presents the old lady as a harsh woman through what she says to the little girl coming with her, “Now then, do as Mama tells you and keep out of this or we’ll leave you here and take this darling little girl away with us.” Realizing her harsh attitude, Bill directly disapproves the wealthy lady’s proposal to adopt Minna.
The fourth characterization technique is the use of thoughts or what he thinks or feels. In Bocarro’s A Long walk Home, Jackson is described as an essentially good teen. He deeply regrets his lying to his father. He reflects that “A rush of guilt ran through me as I feebly confessed to my trip to the movie theater and the real reason for my tardiness.”
The next characterization technique, action, is employed by revealing a character through what he does. In Gale’s Bill, the major character is revealed as a very loving father. This is shown through some of his actions. He washed and patched Minna’s garment. He mended her doll. He prayed for her welfare. He prepared her to leave him (when she is adopted) by refusing to kiss her before she goes to sleep. He carefully selects the people coming to adopt her to find the best parents for her.
The last characterization technique, reaction, is employed by revealing a character through what other characters think, feel, and say about him. In Gale’s Bill, Bill is shown as a man who believes that wealth is not the only factor to consider for Minna’s happy future. This belief is clarified through the curiosity of the lady next door when she sees Bill refuses some rich family to adopt Minna. Gale writes, “When other cars came, and he let them go, this woman told her husband that Bill ought to be reported to authorities.”
Cuddon, J.A. (2013). A dictionary of literary terms and literary theory (5th Ed.). Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd