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What is a Dynamic Character? - Definition & Examples

What is a Dynamic Character? - Definition & Examples
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Edward Zipperer

Eddie has an MFA in English from Georgia College where he has taught scriptwriting, English 101, English 102, and World Literature since 2007.

This lesson provides an explanation of what a dynamic character is and explores some famous dynamic characters in literature, including Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, Prince Hal, Harry Potter, and Neville Longbottom.

What Is a Dynamic Character?

A dynamic character is a character who changes throughout the course of a story as a result of the conflicts they encounter on their journey. Some dynamic characters learn a lesson, like Harry Potter did in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Some come to a new philosophical understanding of the world, such as Hamlet in the play Hamlet. Others gain maturity, like Prince Hal in the play Henry IV. Some discover flaws in their worldview, such as Sherlock Holmes in 'A Scandal in Bohemia.' Still others discover aspects of their own personality that they didn't know were there, like Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

These changes that make a character dynamic are often implied rather than stated outright, so careful analysis is required to discover them.

Dynamic Characters Throughout Literature

Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

One of the main conflicts in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is Harry's inner conflict. He notices that he shares several abilities in common with Tom Riddle - who turns out to be the evil Lord Voldemort - and worries that this means he might turn out to be evil as well. Dumbledore points out that Harry is in Gryffindor House, while Tom Riddle was in Slytherin House.

'It (The Sorting Hat) only put me in Gryffindor,' said Harry in a defeated voice, because I asked not to go in Slytherin.' 'Exactly,' said Dumbledore, beaming once more. 'Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.'

This lesson about the importance of one's choices resolves Harry's inner conflict and makes him a dynamic character.

Sherlock Holmes in 'A Scandal in Bohemia'

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 4 novels and 56 short stories about Sherlock Holmes, but they are mostly episodic. He solves all kinds of mysteries but rarely changes. However, in 'A Scandal in Bohemia,' the very first Sherlock Holmes short story, Sherlock Holmes does change. He discovers a flaw in his worldview.

At the beginning of the story, Sherlock Holmes does not respect the intellect or cleverness of women. It is implied that he believes in a stereotype of women as unreasonable and overly emotional. At the end of the story, however, Holmes has been outwitted and bested by Irene Adler. The narrator, Dr. Watson, tells us: 'He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late.'

This quote shows that Sherlock's view of women has changed, thus making him a dynamic character as well.

Hamlet in Hamlet

Throughout Shakespeare's most famous play, the main character is preoccupied with death. The afterlife is Hamlet's greatest fear, which makes sense considering that his father came out of purgatory and told him of the horrors that await. Because the afterlife is Hamlet's greatest fear, it follows that he is afraid to die. He tells the audience that he would gladly kill himself if it weren't for 'what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.' Because of his fear of death and the afterlife, Hamlet is unable to act out his revenge on Claudius.

But when Hamlet visits the graveyard and holds the dead skull of someone he knew, he realizes that death is inevitable. Even great men like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great could not escape it. He tells Horatio that 'There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come - the readiness is all.' This philosophical change in Hamlet's view of death allows him to finally carry out his revenge on Claudius.

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