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Comparing & Contrasting Characters in a Story

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  • 0:04 Characters
  • 0:47 Comparing & Contrasting
  • 1:30 Physical Traits
  • 3:40 Behavioral Traits
  • 5:13 Dialogue
  • 6:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Want to learn more about the importance of characters in a story? If so, then jump right into this lesson that describes how to compare and contrast characters in a piece of literature.

Characters

What makes a movie gripping? Why do you get addicted to a good television show? Why are certain novels page-turners? True, there can be many answers to these questions, but one thing that can make a story meaningful and popular is its characters.

In a fictional work, a character is a person, animal, or object that drives the story. The choices and actions of the characters move the story forward. Furthermore, the development of the characters makes the audience care about them. If the audience does not care or relate to the characters, then it doesn't matter if the characters succeed, fail, live, or die. If no one cares about the characters, no one cares about the story. Ultimately, characters make or break most stories.

Comparing & Contrasting

In order to successfully comprehend a story, you must succeed in character analysis. Analysis occurs when you break down a topic or idea. When analyzing, you investigate the smaller parts of something to see what's important or to gather meaning. Thus, character analysis is breaking down the qualities, actions, and motivations of the characters in order to better understand them and their role in the story.

One way to analyze the characters is to compare and contrast them. When discussing literature, the term compare means to show the similarities between two or more things. On the other hand, contrast means to show the differences between two or more things. As you read a story, there are several methods you can use to compare and contrast characters.

Physical Traits

The first method involves analyzing the physical traits, or the features of a character's body. Physical traits include height, weight, hair color, facial features, eye color, skin color, and even shoe size.

To compare and contrast physical traits, look for the similarities and differences between the features of each of these characters. Read the following excerpts from the novel The Secret Garden.

Mary:

My word! She's a plain little piece of goods! And we heard that her mother was a beauty. She hasn't handed much of it down, has she ma'am?

Her black dress made her look yellower than ever, and her limp light hair straggled from under her black crepe hat.

Colin:

The boy had a sharp, delicate face the color of ivory and he seemed to have eyes too big for it. He had also a lot of hair which tumbled over his forehead in heavy locks and made his thin face seem smaller. He looked like a boy who had been ill, but he was crying more as if he were tired and cross than as if he were in pain.

Dickon:

He was a funny looking boy about twelve. He looked very clean and his nose turned up and his cheeks were as red as poppies and never had Mistress Mary seen such round and such blue eyes in any boy's face.

You can clearly see some physical traits of the characters Mary, Colin, and Dickon. Why is noting the physical traits of a character important? Well, many times physical traits will reflect personality or some other important aspect of the character.

For example, Mary's traits at the beginning of The Secret Garden include yellowish skin, limp hair, and pale complexion. She was never outside, nor did she do physical activities. These physical traits reflected her unpleasant personality. If we compare the physical traits of Mary and Colin, we see many similarities, which correlate to the similarities of their personalities.

If we contrast Mary and Colin with Dickon, the physical differences reflect the differences in the characters' personalities. Dickon is a boy who's nice to every person and animal he comes across. Furthermore, as the story progresses, Mary starts spending time out of doors, and so her physical traits change. Colin goes through an even more drastic physical change, which is key to the theme in the story. Those physical changes correlate with personality changes.

Behaviorial Traits

The second element to compare and contrast is character behavior, which is comprised of the actions and choices of the character. Just like with the physical traits, look for specific behaviors of the characters you are comparing and contrasting. Here are some excerpts from the novel The Call of the Wild:

Buck:

Yet it was a secret growth. His new-born cunning gave him poise and control. He was too busy adjusting himself to the new life to feel at ease, and not only did he not pick fights, but he avoided them whenever possible. A certain deliberateness characterized his attitude. He was not prone to rashness and precipitate action; and in the bitter hatred between him and Spitz he betrayed no impatience, shunned all offensive acts.

Spitz:

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