How to Write a Character Analysis: Conclusion

No New Information
Many people would agree that you should not make any new points in your concluding paragraph. So, if you can’t say anything new, what can you say? Something old, of course!

Rephrase your thesis sentence. Paraphrase each of your topic sentences and remind the reader of one or two pertinent examples for each.

You might want to use a quotation which you feel perfectly presents your character or to inject humor.

Example: Little Miss Muffet’s mother probably put it best when she said, “Well, all I’ve got to say is if you don’t get of your tuffet and start cleaning your room, there’ll be a lot more spiders around here!”

You might want to ask a question for the audience to think on further.

Example: Under what circumstances is it likely that giving in and persevering will win a person a better position in the end, as Cinderella’s worked out for her?

You might end by generalizing from your character to the world at large.

Example: “Goldilocks did not follow the rules and yet was able to escape without consequences; while this happens sometimes in the real world, it is not something to be counted on.”

Yes, New Information
Not everyone is opposed to new information within the conclusion. If you or your teacher are among these, what kinds of new information could you add to the conclusion? Basically, you can add anything as long as it is relevant.

Do not use the “new information” idea of the conclusion to discuss something extraneous to your point. For example, if you are writing about the novel Gulliver’s Travels, do not use your final paragraph to talk about how great or horrible Jack Black was in the role of Gulliver in the recent movie. You could, however, refer to the movie in terms of how it supports or contradicts your point in the essay.

If, however, you were discussing Gulliver’s Travels and how Gulliver succumbs to insanity as a result of his acceptance of rationality as the highest virtue, a discussion of a more modern experience similar to that, perhaps Nietzche’s mental illness after his famous proclamation of the death of god, would be appropriate.

Or, using the example above, you might discuss how Goldilocks seems to have gotten away with disobeying the rules in your paper and then in the conclusion discuss real-world consequences, through celebrities arrested for drug abuse or personal experiences with attempting to circumvent the rules. Then you would need to tie what you were talking about back to your main thesis and end with something similar to this example.

“Goldilocks did not follow the rules and yet was able to escape without consequences; while this happens sometimes in the real world, it is not something to be counted on.”

Hints to remember:
Do not address the audience in an academic paper. Don’t make an announcement.

Bad example: We have seen through this discussion…
Bad example: As I have shown, …

Just say what you want to say.

Conclude your paragraph with a strong statement, not a weak reference.

Bad example: So Fanny Price was not a bad heroine after all.
Better: Jane Austen presents the world with an often-misunderstood heroine who found her proper place in life and excelled within it.

For other parts of the character analysis:
How to Write a Character Analysis: Introduction
How to Write a Character Analysis: Body Paragraphs
How to Write a Character Analysis: Titles

How to Write a Character Analysis: Titles

Take a partial line from the last sentence in your paper and make it your title.

Example of a closing sentence: Jane Austen presents the world with an often-misunderstood heroine who found her proper place in life and excelled within it.

For example, from the concluding sentence above you could take “Her Proper Place” as a title. This refers both to her fulfilling society’s expectations and getting a husband and to her place as a proper heroine. Such a dualistic interpretation for a title (one that is easily understood but doesn’t club the reader over the head) indicates a stronger title.

How to Write a Character Analysis: Body Paragraphs

cinderella-shoesEach body paragraph should start with a topic sentence in which you state the point you will be developing within each paragraph. These should not be simply self-evident statements. There must be a point to them. If you say “‘Cinderella’ is about a girl becoming a princess” you are correct, but your paper will not be particularly interesting. Instead you might say “‘Cinderella’ shows how good triumphs over evil; though Cinderella was given all the chores, which could have made her ugly, she was the most beautiful.” This makes your main point be about good triumphing over evil, specifically through her physical beauty.

An example:
Fanny Price’s insipidness is a major aspect of her character which persists throughout the novel.

Then you should give examples from various parts of the novel to show that this is true. You need a minimum of two, though three would probably be better. Four would be okay, but five would be too many and overburden your paragraph and your reader. If you need that many examples, you need to break down the topic into multiple paragraphs. You might, for example, decide to make this two paragraphs. One paragraph would be about how Fanny’s insipidness is first made apparent to the reader and the second would be about how the insipidness was carried throughout the entire novel.

You should choose the best examples to show your point unless you need to use the same example to make another point. If the best example of Fanny’s insipidness is also the best one to show her inerrancy, then you have to make a judgment call. Determine which of the two is the weaker argument and use the best example for that argument, since it is the one that needs the most help.

Do not use the same example to illustrate multiple points. Doing this indicates to your teacher that you did not read the work. If there is an example that is absolutely necessary to two points, make sure you use more than enough other examples to make clear that you have read the text.

Give just enough detail in your examples to make your point. Do not give too much detail; your teacher has read the book. Also don’t give so little information that your reader has to fill in your meaning.

How to Close a Body Paragraph
A body paragraph can end in many ways. The best, and the most difficult, is tying up the paragraph while leading into the next topic.

So, if you were doing the Fanny Price with two paragraphs, you might end:

While X introduces Fanny as an insipid character, this characterization is continued through the entire novel in various ways.

Then the next paragraph would start with:
In four different instances, Austen makes Fanny Price’s insipidness a major characteristic of the heroine….

How to Write a Character Analysis: Introduction

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.

Poetry Wars at School?

Stephen Zelnick writes of poetry wars with his students at Minding the Campus.

His side of the battle is this:

I told a student her interpretation of a poem was wrong. From that moment I was regarded as an enemy to freedom.

I invited my students to engage with me in online debate on whether an interpretation could be wrong. What follows is their side of the argument. My arguments failed to dent their belief that a poem means whatever a reader thinks.

For their side, read the whole Poetry Wars article.

Modeling Reading Poetry

Our students often see us read poetry that we have written papers on, studied in grad school, memorized as undergrads. They think that the ability to read poems is innate in English teachers and, therefore, far beyond them.

One exercise I have done in Comp and Lit (2nd semester freshman) is assign the students to go through the anthology and pick out a poem that is not on the reading list. I tell them that I will read the poems in class and model how to read a poem.

Most of the students pick different poems, so there is variety.

If they picked a poem I know, I say that, give a brief intro, and then go on to the next poem.

studyig-1900sBut it has been interesting. One guy suggested a poem by William Carlos Williams, not my favorite because of “Use of Force” and “Just to Say.” (Though I love his newspaper poems now, after ALA in Boston in May.) So I looked at the poem and was trying to figure it out/follow it. The student who picked it had seen there was an explanation of the poem and he had read that. When I got stuck on my interpretation, he referred to the book and explained the poem to the class. Whoo hoo!

That’s what modeling poetry does. It takes away our “expert” standing on everything, while still ceding us expert standing on reading literature, and the students get to see how even a professor can stall on a poem’s interpretation.

Introducing Poetry: Poetry the Students Like

This last semester in Composition and Literature (second semester of freshman comp), I introduced poetry. I had a handout. I explained the handout. I went through a couple of poems fairly quickly to show how the information on the handout could actually be applied to real poetry.

Then I had the students go print the lyrics of one of their favorite songs. (I did say no extremely foul language and it must be appropriate for the university so that neither they nor I would be embarrassed if some VIP happened to show up in class.)

I told them to make four copies.

When they came to class, I had everyone turn in one copy. Then I had them trade copies with three other people. Everyone was reading three people’s favorite lyrics.

Then I had them take the handout and see what in the handout was applicable to the lyrics they were given. This was an hour and a half class and that took about an hour.

During that hour I rapidly read through the lyrics myself, noting one or two particularly poetic lines and identifying those. Then in the last half hour of class, I read the poems aloud as poems.

cello-steelI only knew one of the songs, so my rendition did not echo the music of the songs. The students thought my readings were hysterical. They laughed outright at some of my readings. Sometimes I interpreted the poems in a way totally alien to their reading of the lyrics.

This one day exercise, I believe, gave my whole poetry section more efficacy. The students saw that they already liked poetry, in the form of lyrics. I approached their poems with the same effort (if not enthusiasm) that I gave to literary poetry. And the students had fun finding poetic examples in lyrics many of them were familiar with.

Note: This was a class of 25 students and no one brought in the same lyrics.

Second note: This was a class of 25 students and only one student brought in lyrics to a song I have ever heard of.

I came to this exercise through the presentation of Donna Jarma from OKC at Two-Year College Association, Southwest, last October.

She is much more musically inclined and pop culturally aware than I am, so her work was far more involved and interesting. However, I believe that my class benefited from her recommendations and also we all had fun with literature. (Which is a great idea, imho.)

19th Century Literature of Madness

This is not a complete list. I would appreciate any recommendations of particularly teachable works of literature that would fit within a unit on 19th century madness, particularly works of American fiction.

Alcott, Louisa May Work: A Story of Experience 1873 includes a family who finds out insanity is in their genes and their individual responses
Bronte, Charlotte Jane Eyre 1847
Browning, Robert “Porphyria’s Lover” 1836
Carroll, Lewis Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1862
Chopin, Kate The Awakening 1899
Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness 1899
Dickens, Charles The Pickwick Papers 1836-7
Dickinson, Emily “Much madness is divinest sense” 1862?
Dostoevsky, Fyodor Crime and Punishment 1866
Dostoevsky, Fyodor The Double 1846
Flaubert, Gustave Memoirs of a Madman 1838
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins “The Yellow Wall-paper” 1892
Gogol, Nikolai “Diary of a Madman” 1835 diary entries follow the narrator into insanity
Hawthorne, Nathaniel “Young Goodman Brown” 1835
Kesey, Ken One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 1962
Melville, Herman Moby Dick 1851
Poe, Edgar Allan “The Cask of Amontillado” 1846
Poe, Edgar Allan “The Fall of the House of Usher” 1839
Poe, Edgar Allan “The Tell Tale Heart” 1843
Scott, Sir Walter The Bride of Lammermoor, the story of a woman who goes mad when her man betrays her, 1819
Stevenson, Robert Louis Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1886
Whitman, Walt “Bervance” a man considers consigning his son to a lunatic asylum because of homosexuality 1841
Wilde, Oscar The Picture of Dorian Gray 1890

Fairy Tales to Introduce Criticism

Besides using the fairy tales to introduce the different types of literary analysis, I also use them to introduce different forms of criticism.

fairytales_jack_beanstalkSince my one student wrote on it, I talk about the Marxist interpretation of “The Three Little Pigs.” I think you can imagine what a Freudian interpretation of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” might be and “Little Red Riding Hood” lends itself to a Freudian interpretation historically. More modern versions, like “The Grandmother,” are overtly about sex. Jungian criticism offers an interesting approach to the forest often included in the fairy tales. … And I go through all the different schools of criticism that students are likely to run into later when they are writing a literary research paper.

For the final short paper on fairy tales, I allow students to either use a fairy tale we have covered in class or to pick a story they grew up with.

Using fairy tales to introduce literary analysis has worked well for my classes.

This was part of a presentation given at the Conference of College Teachers of English: Texas in March.