How to Write a Character Analysis: Introduction

by Dr Davis on August 29, 2009

fairytales_goldilocks2The introduction can start with a quote, a question, a few lines of dialogue, or a statement. If you are writing about “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” you might have a beginning sentence such as this one:
Why would any little girl be wandering in the woods alone?

The simplest introduction includes things about the character which are relevant but not closely related to the developed discussion in your paper. For instance, if you are writing a paper on Goldilocks and a main aspect of this character that you are going to discuss is her hair, you probably aren’t going to write about her looks in the introduction. You might, though, include a discussion of what parameters of culture allowed a little girl to wander into the woods alone, particularly if you think her looks indicate something about why she was allowed to wander.

The introduction could include many things: history, background, information on the author, information on the genre of the work, or an important definition. Only information which is relevant to the work and your point should be included. Read further for when this information would be relevant.

How do you know when something is relevant? Ways to check on relevance would include looking at different discussions of the work on the net, your teacher’s introduction, or looking for descriptions of the time period online.

You can talk about the history of a work in a character analysis introduction if the work was written in a time period other than present day. Often different time periods carried with them different expectations. If your subject is a female character in a mid-nineteenth century British novel, the expectations are that she is subservient, quiet, and a rule follower. This is particularly important to know if your character does not meet the social expectations of the day. Or, given the expectations for modern women, it might be just as important if she does.

alice-w-flamingoYou can talk about the background of the work if it has an interesting story behind it or if its background is particularly relevant to your character. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written for a little girl and there are many inside jokes and references to the girl’s friends and family. If Alice is your subject, then this background would be important.

You can talk about the author if, for example, the work is very biographical. If you are talking about the main character in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, then you should be talking about the author because the work is very biographical. Another reason to talk about the author is if he/she is well-known for the type of work that you are examining. If you are looking at a satire by Jonathan Swift, it could be important to discuss the types of satire he used.

ice-frankensteinInformation on the genre of the work is important if it is an early example, such as Frankenstein and science fiction, or if it is a seminal example, such as “The Monkey’s Paw” and horror. Even though you are talking about a character, genre can make a difference in expectations of the characters. If you are writing about a child in a fairy tale, there is the expectation that life is about to go horribly wrong, but will be righted by the end of the story.

Definitions can also be important and, if they are important for your paper, it is worth making sure that you have defined the word or words. If you are writing about a foil character, it is important to make clear the definition of foil and whether it is an opposite foil or a complementary foil.

The final sentence of the first paragraph is usually the thesis sentence. This is where you tell your reader what you are going to be discussing throughout the paper. If you set it up that way, the thesis sentence can also dictate how many paragraphs are in the paper.

An example of a good thesis sentence:
Fanny Price has often been seen as a flawed leading lady because of her insipidness, her moral rectitude, and the perspective that she does not change within the novel; however, Fanny is a perfect manners heroine because she learns where she belongs, she carries out her supportive role, and, in the end, she reaches the pinnacle of success in marrying the man she loves.

This thesis sentence sets up six body paragraphs:
1- insipidness
2- moral rectitude
3- static characteristics
4- recognizes her “place”
5- fulfills society’s expectations
6- reaches her goal of marriage

For additional hints:
How to Write a Character Analysis: Body Paragraphs
How to Write a Character Analysis: Conclusion
How to Write a Character Analysis: Titles

Also see the first comment for an interactive link of Cinderella, discussing setting, plot, characters, exposition, conflict, etc.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linda Aragoni 09.09.09 at 7:03 am

This link takes you to an interactive literary analysis of Cinderella. When I saw it, I was reminded of your work with fairy tales. Here’s the link.
http://www.learner.org/interactives/story/setting.html

The link came from one of my Twitter followers, skipz, a Vermont educational technologist. He digs out great resources for his school, all grades and subjects. I find something useful from him everyday.

2 Kayla 03.01.10 at 8:01 pm

THANKS YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
this helps so much

3 Samuel 03.16.10 at 5:38 pm

Thanks heaps, this rocks!!!!

4 Student in need 03.16.10 at 5:44 pm

THANKING YOU SO MUCH !!!!!! I would never have survived without this…

5 Brendan 03.16.10 at 5:58 pm

This site is really cool. It really helps me to get my English work done!

6 shannnon 10.03.10 at 4:20 pm

THANKS A BUNCH, I WUDNT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO START MY PAPER WITH OUT THIS.

7 Sydney[: 10.23.10 at 11:14 pm

thank you soo much! this helps me with my English paper tonss!!

8 Avery 02.08.11 at 5:03 pm

this article is fab! it really helped me to write my character analysis paper on magwitch from great expectations. thank you! :)

9 Anson 05.22.11 at 2:48 am

Dear Dr. Davis…Thanks for your wonderful gift..!! :-)
Shall share your inspiration with students and teachers I work with…

10 Mel McRoberts 10.09.11 at 4:32 pm

What is the difference between a “character synopsis” and a “character analysis”?

11 Dr Davis 10.10.11 at 7:54 am

A synopsis is a summary of the character based on what the text actually says. It does not include interpretation, reasons, or connections.

An analysis examines the character and attempts to explain the character. Actions and reactions may be discussed, but in terms of the reasons for those actions. Looks may be discussed, but in the context of how those looks play into the presentation of the character. Motivations for the character might be proposed. Connections between this character and some other real or imaginary person might be suggested. A discussion of how the character relates to or mimics some area of the author’s life might be made. Etc.

However, if this is for an assignment, make sure that the instructor means summary without analysis for synopsis. While that is the general definition, some people use words differently than the majority do.

12 JUDITH JOSHUA 10.14.11 at 3:07 am

WOW!IT HELPED ME A LOT,AT LEAST NOW I CAN START MY WORK ON CHARACTER ANALYSIS IN THE BOOK ‘ANTIGONE’. I ALSO NEED HELP ON THE DEFINITION OF CHARACTER ANALYSIS BECAUSE I FEEL IT’S NECESSARY MENTIONING DAT IN MY INTRODUCTION.

13 Melissa 12.09.11 at 5:07 pm

Thank you!! so helpful

14 Megan 01.09.12 at 12:09 pm

Thanks so much! All of your articles helped me write my character analysis essay for English class! 600+ words, and I couldn’t have typed 1 without the help of these pages! :)

15 Areyn 01.18.13 at 9:50 am

Thanks :D this was very helpful

16 Geraldlyn 08.19.13 at 10:29 am

Thankzz!! I think this website would help me a lot for my character analysis essay for my English class.

17 Madison 08.22.13 at 11:20 am

Thanks very helpful.

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