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Character


Character

? The relationship between plot and character is a vital and necessary one. Without character, there would be no plot and, hence, no story. For most readers of film the primary attraction lies in the characters, in the endlessly fascinating collection of men and women whose experiences and adventures form the basis of the plots of the stories and the novels in which they appear. Part of the fascination with the characters of film is that we often come to know them so well.

? In real life we come to know people for the most part only on the basis of externals—on the basis of what they say and what they do; the complexity of their inner lives can be inferred only after years of close acquaintance, if at all. Film, on the other hand, often provides us with immediate access, however brief and fleeting, to that inner life—to the intellectual, emotional, moral complexities of human personality. And even when the director withholds that access, he or she usually provides sufficient information to allow us to make judgments about the internal makeup of the men and women to whom we are introduced. In either case, however, the ability to make such judgments—the ability to interpret correctly the evidence the author provides— is always crucial to our understanding.

? When we examine character in literary analyses, we are concerned essentially with three separate, but closely connected, activities. We are concerned, first of all, with being able to establish the personalities of the characters themselves and to identify their intellectual, emotional, and moral qualities. Second, we are concerned with the techniques a director uses to create and develop characters. Third, we are concerned with whether the characters are credible and convincing.

?In evaluating the success of characterization, the third issue is a particularly crucial one, for although plot can carry a work to a point; it is a rare work whose final value is not intimately connected with the convincing portrayal of characters. Naturally, such an evaluation can only take place within the context of the story as a whole, which inevitably links character to the other elements.

Characters in Fiction
?The term character applies to any individual in a literary work. For the purpose of analysis, characters are customarily described by their relationship to plot, by the degree of development, and by whether or not they undergo significant character change.

?The major, or central, character of the plot is the protagonist; his or her opponent, the character against whom the protagonist struggles or contends, is the antagonist. The protagonist is usually easy enough to identify: he or she is the essential character without whom there would be no plot in the first place.

?It is the protagonist's fate on which the attention of the audience is focused. The terms protagonist and antagonist, incidentally, do not (unlike the terms hero, heroine, or villain) imply a judgment about moral worth. Many protagonists embody a complex mixture of both positive and negative qualities, very much in the way their real life counterparts do.

?The antagonist can be somewhat more difficult to identify, especially if the antagonist is not a human being, as is the case with the marlin that challenges the courage and endurance of the old fisherman Santiago in Ernest Hemingway's famous short novel The Old Man and the Sea.

?In fact, as we noted earlier, the antagonist may not be a living creature at all, but rather the hostile social or natural environment with which the protagonist is forced to contend. The protagonist may not always manage to compete successfully with and defeat the antagonist, either; often the opposite is true.

?To describe the relative degree to which fictional characters are developed by their creators, critics usually distinguish between what are referred to as flat and round characters.

? A flat character is built around a single trait, quality, or idea. This type of characters is immediately recognizable and never changes or surprises us, so they are static. Flat characters include stereotypes, or stock characters, such as the noble hero, the innocent young lover, the fiendish villain, and the faithful friend. Stories of hard-boiled detectives and dashing secret agents involve flat characters; they may of course be wonderfully entertaining stories, but they are still predictable.

?A round character, on the other hand, satisfies our sense of the actual richness and complexity of human nature. Round characters are developed by the author; they change and grow and thus they are dynamic. Often they exhibit contradictory traits, and, like real human beings, frequently surprise us. The greatest characters in literature are those that are most "round."

(2) Methods of Characterization
? In presenting and establishing character, a director has two basic methods or techniques at his or her disposal. One method is telling, which relies on exposition and direct commentary by the author. In telling the guiding hand of the director is very much in evidence. We learn primarily from what the director explicitly calls to our attention. The other method is the indirect, dramatic method of showing, which involves the director's stepping aside, as it were, to allow the characters to reveal themselves directly through their dialogue and their actions.

?With showing, much of the burden of character analysis is shifted to the reader, who is required to infer character on the basis of the evidence provided in the narrative. Telling and showing are not mutually exclusive, however. Many directors still employ a combination of the two, though showing is usually the choice.

The Choice of Fiction Writer
? Most modem authors prefer showing to telling, but neither method is necessarily better or more fruitful than the other. As with so many other choices that the writer of fiction must make, the choice of a method of characterization depends on the circumstances. These include the author's temperament, the particular literary conventions of the period in which he or she is writing, the size and scope of the work, the degree of distance and objectivity the author wishes to establish between himself or herself and the characters, the author's literary and philosophical beliefs about how a sense of reality can best be conveyed to the reader, and of course, the kind of story the author wishes to tell.

Direct methods of revealing character— characterization by telling—include the following.
?1) Characterization through the use of names. Names are often used to provide essential clues that aid in characterization. Some characters are given names that suggest their dominant or controlling traits, as for example. Young Goodman Brown, the naive young Puritan in Hawthorne's story, and Mr. Blanc, the reserved Easterner on Stephen Crane's "The Blue Hotel."

? Other characters are given names that reinforce their physical appearance. Names can also contain literary or historical allusions that aid in characterization by means of association. For example, the name Bonaparte, which Frank O'Connor gives to one of the young Irish soldiers in "Guests of the Nation," has clear and unmistakable and ironic historical overtones. One must also, of course, be alert to names used ironically, which characterize through inversion.

Question:
?Find out some characters from the films we’ve watched this semester whose names are of special meaning.

2) Characterization through appearance
?The real life appearances are often deceiving. In the world of fiction, however, details of appearance including what a character wears and how he or she looks often provide essential clues to character. So details of dress and physical appearance should be scrutinized closely for what they may reveal about character.

?Details of dress may offer clues to background, occupation, economic and social status, and perhaps even a clue to the character's degree of self-respect. Details of physical appearance can help to identify a character's age and the general state of his physical and emotional health: whether the character is strong or weak, happy or sad, calm or agitated.

? Appearance can be used in other ways as well, particularly with minor characters who are flat and static. By common agreement, certain physical attributes have become identified over a period of time with certain kinds of inner psychological states. Such convenient and economic shortcuts to characterization are perfectly permissible, of course, as long as they result in characters who are in their own way convincing.

Question:
?Is this method employed in Philadelphia? If yes, give examples to support your answer.

3) Characterization by the author
? In the most customary form of telling, the author interrupts the narrative and reveals directly, through a series of editorial comments, the personality of the characters, including the thoughts and feelings that pass through the characters' minds. By so doing the author retains full control over characterization. The author not only directs our attention to a given character, but also tells us exactly what our attitude toward that character ought to be.

Question:
?Is this method employed in Philadelphia? If yes, give examples to support your answer.

? By contrast, there are two methods of indirect characterization by showing: characterization through dialogue and characterization through action. Unlike the direct methods of characterization already discussed, showing involves the gradual rather than the immediate revelation of character. Such a process requires rather than excludes active participation by calling upon both the reader's intelligence and memory.

4) Characterization through dialogue
? Real life is quite literally filled with talk. People are forever talking about themselves and between themselves, communicating bits and pieces of information. Not all of this information is important or even particularly interesting; it tells us relatively little about the personality of the speaker, except, perhaps, whether he or she is at ease in social situations.

? Some light fiction reproduces dialogue as it might occur in reality, but the best authors trim everything that is inconsequential. What remains is weighty and substantial and carries with it the force of the speaker's attitudes, values, and beliefs. We pay attention to such talk because it may consciously or unconsciously serve to reveal the speaker's innermost character and personality.

? It is by no means easy for a reader to understand characters on the basis of dialogue alone. Some characters are careful and guarded in what they say: they speak only by indirection, and we must infer from their words what they actually mean. Others are open and candid; they tell us, or appear to tell us, exactly what is in their minds. Some characters are given to chronic exaggeration and overstatement, others to understatement and subtlety.

?It is a rare work of fiction whose author does not employ dialogue in some way to establish and reinforce character. For this reason the reader must be prepared to analyze dialogue in a number of different ways.

?For instance, the reader must pay close attention to the substance of the dialogue (what is being said), the identity of the speaker, the occasion on which the conversation takes place, the identity of the person or persons the speaker is addressing, the quality or character of the exchange, and the speaker's tone of voice, stress, dialect, and vocabulary.

Questions:
?What’s the change can we find in the directors’ words to and about Andy before and after Andy’s illness? What’s the significance of the change?

5) Characterization through action
?The idea that one's behavior is a logical and even necessary extension of one's psychology and personality is widely shared. In brief, the single most important and definitive method of revealing character is through action.

?To establish character on the basis of action, it is necessary to scrutinize the events of the plot for what they seem to reveal about the characters. From these events we learn about the unconscious emotional and psychological states of the characters as well as about their conscious attitudes and values. Some actions, of course, are inherently more meaningful in this respect than others.

?A gesture or a facial expression usually carries with it less significance than some larger overt act. But this is not always the case. Very often it is the small and involuntary action, by very virtue of its spontaneous and unconscious quality, that tells us more about a character's inner life than a larger, premeditated act.

?In either case, whether the action is large or small, conscious or unconscious, it is necessary to identify the common pattern of behavior of which each separate action is a part One helpful way of doing so is on the basis of motive. In seeking motive, we attempt to trace certain effects back to their underlying causes.

?If we are successful in doing so and if a consistent pattern of motivation appears, then it is fairly safe to assume that we have made some important discoveries about the character. When we say the consistency of character motivation, we don't mean that characters in fiction cannot undergo development and change.

? Rather, a character may undergo change, may act in an unexpected or inconsistent way, but we must be convinced that the change is well motivated by events and consistent on some basic and identifiable way with the nature of the character. Thus, in seeking to test for consistency, we must frequently ask ourselves whether the motive for a particular action or series of actions is adequate and probable given what we know about that character.

Question:
?What kind of person is Andy from his actions toward his bosses, friends, and family?


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