How to Write a Character Analysis Essay
A literary character analysis gives you the opportunity to explore a character in a book and investigate his role in the story. While character analyses follow many conventions of literary essays, including a thesis statement, well-structured paragraphs and a conclusion, they focus on the traits that establish the character's importance to the story. Crafting a thesis that describes the character and developing your main points with evidence from the text can help you write an essay that illuminates his function in the story for readers.
Craft a Thesis Statement
Exploring the primary traits of the character can help you plan the central focus of your essay. Try isolating these traits by examining the character's actions, thoughts and dialogue, as well as what other characters think of him. Then, address the significance of these traits through a clear, specific thesis statement. For example, your essay might focus on the character of Tessie from Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," a story about a town that sacrifices one of its citizens each year to ensure a good harvest. A good thesis statement might read, "While Tessie is ultimately chosen by fate as 'winner' of the lottery, she sets herself apart as an outsider through her free-spirited nature, the town's responses to her behavior and her ultimate rejection of the lottery's rules."
Help Readers Relate
Your essay's introduction should not only present your thesis statement, but also hook readers' interest by summarizing the essay's topic. Illustrate how the traits of the character are relevant to their lives, either by explaining how these characteristics manifest themselves in society or what the story as a whole reveals about human nature. For an essay on "The Lottery," for instance, you might talk about how Tessie's character embodies people's tendency to victimize and scapegoat someone who is different from them. This would provide a good lead-in for your thesis about how Tessie sets herself apart from the rest of the town even before she becomes the lottery's sacrifice.
Illustrate Character with Evidence
As you explore each character trait in your thesis, the body paragraphs should elaborate on how these characteristics function in the story. Your topic sentence should clearly define the trait you'll discuss in that paragraph; in the "Lottery" essay, for example, a paragraph might begin, "From the time she arrives at the lottery, Tessie's free spirit identifies her as an outcast from the town." As evidence, you can describe Tessie's entrance, when she arrives late to the lottery and interrupts the proceedings by talking about her chores and excitement about the event, and then contrast this with the other townsfolks' serious demeanor. Use quotations from the story to provide textual evidence for your observations.
Conclude with a Character Summary
Ultimately, you should wrap up your character analysis in a way that does more than just reiterate the points you've made in your body paragraphs. The writing center at Tidewater Community College suggests using your conclusion to create unity in your essay by tying it back to the character traits described in your thesis and introduction. For instance, your essay on "The Lottery" might conclude by revisiting the idea of how groups tend to respond to people who don't share their beliefs, and how Tessie's death reveals the consequences that often come with taking a stand against the majority.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.