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Types of Characters in Literature - Definition and Examples

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Types of Characters in Literature
 Admin  July 17, 2020  Assignment  0

Characters are an inseparable element of any story. The effectiveness of a story is often determined by how strongly the characters are sketched. Now, while studying English, the characterization is one of the many aspects that you need to understand. In order to further expand your understanding of the characters, you need to know about the types of characters.

Learning about the different types of characters can be a bit too overwhelming. But once you do learn all the different categories and types, you won’t have issues while analyzing for your assignments. To simplify the character types, we have curated this post that might want to read through.  

Characters defined by roles

Role refers to the part that a particular character plays in the story. You’re probably aware that the protagonist assumes the most crucial role in any story. This automatically means all other roles are defined based on their relationship to the protagonist. The roles typically define how characters interact and affect one another.

Protagonist

Most of us are acquainted with this type of character as the action within a story centers around them. They are the ones we're supposed to care about the most. It’s necessary to introduce the protagonist into the story to move it forward. This type of character is important because all other characters in a story are defined depending on the protagonist.

If a story is written from the first-person point of view, then the narrator can be considered as the protagonist. For example, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the narrator and the protagonist are the same.

However, there are exceptions in this case as well. A prominent example of this exception would be the character of Dr. John Watson, who is a narrator of the stories of Sherlock Holmes but is not the central character himself.

Some noteworthy examples of protagonists are Jane Eyre, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Alice Lidell, Tom Sawyer, etc.

Antagonist

This type of character is everything that a protagonist is not. This means if a protagonist is virtuous and the antagonist will be vicious. However, this rule may not apply to every piece of literature. This is particularly true if the protagonist is an anti-hero who’s devoid of the typical heroic traits, or the antagonist is an anti-villain who possesses noble characteristics.

For example, Macbeth is considered an anti-hero who doesn't possess the typical traits of a protagonist. On the other hand, the character of Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series can be called an anti-villain.

Antagonists just as important in a story as the protagonists, but they may not be seen as much. They often operate in secret.

Some of the popular antagonists are Iago, Claudius, Professor Jim Moriarty, Mrs. Danvers, Becky Sharp, etc.

Deuteragonist

Most narrative consists of a protagonist and a deuteragonist (or group of deuteragonists). This is the character who’s not exactly under the spotlight, but quite close to it.

They’re often found in the company of the protagonist. They offer advice, plot against their rivals, and graciously lend a helping hand. Their presence and connection to the protagonist provide warmth to the story. This indicates that the story isn’t only about the hero’s journey, but about the friends they make along the way.

Jim (from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), Lady Macbeth, Samwise Gamgee, Jane Bennet are some great examples of deuteragonist.

Tertiary characters

Tertiary characters take up only a small part of the narrative and don’t necessarily link to the main storyline. They can be found flitting in and out of the story, only appearing in one or two scenes throughout the book.

However, a well-rounded story still requires such characters. In fact, we all have such characters in real life as well. Like the random passenger, you sit next to while in the subway, or the courier delivery person that delivered your packages.

You can consider the Padma and Parvati Patil from the Harry Potter series, Madame Stahl in Anna Karenina to this type of character.  

Foil character

A foil character refers to someone whose personality and values are in stark contrast to that of the protagonist's. This clash highlights the central character’s defining attributes, providing us with a clearer picture of who they truly are.

Even though two characters may have an antagonistic relationship, the foil, as per literary definition, is usually not the antagonist. Sometimes the central characters and their foil clash at first, but eventually leave their differences behind to become friends. 

Some pertinent examples are Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, to name a few. All these characters act as foils to one another.

Characters based on quality

Quality refers to the kind of character someone is. This doesn’t relate to their temperament, whether they’re being nice or mean. But it rather connects to their nature within the story, like whether they’re dynamic or static. These types tend to define a narrative purpose in a story. You’ll learn more as we delve into them below.

Changing/dynamic character

The dynamic character is one who evolves over the course of a particular story. They often transform to become wiser or better, and sometimes they can evolve into worst as well. Many antagonists go through the shift from good to evil, like Dorian Gray and Amy Dunne (from Gone Girl).

The protagonist of a story has to be dynamic, and most of the deuteragonists should go through changes as well. However, it’s not necessary to make the changes obvious for your audience to catch on. In the course of your narrative journey, these changes should come about naturally and subtly.

Don Quixote, Elizabeth Bennet, Neville Longbottom are some of the noted examples in this category.  

Static character

You might've understood the category; static characters are the ones that don’t change. This type is similar to flat characters, by definition. And if a story consists of too many static characters, then that indicates sloppy writing. Then again, certain static characters serve a bigger purpose in a story.

Many static figures are often unlikable. For instance, the mistreatment of Harry Potter by his aunt and uncle makes them people we "love to hate" and elevates our sympathy for the protagonist.

The examples of static characters include Mr. Collins, Miss Havisham, Sherlock Holmes (a rare static protagonist), etc.

Stock character

Similar to archetypes, stock characters are those familiar figures that keep making appearances in the stories from time after time, be it the chosen one, the joker, the mentor, etc. You must never overuse them, but these types of characters can be really helpful to make readers feel connected with your story.

The trick that writers often use is to go beyond the archetypal features of this character. So, when sketching a character, they may start with a stock, but they have to embellish and incorporate other unique elements to add more depth.

The perfect examples of this type of character are Sir Toby (Twelfth Night), Nick Bottom (the fool), Nick Bottom, etc.

Symbolic character

A symbolic character is introduced to highlight something crucial in the story. This means the character is connected to the overall message of a book. This type of character needs to be used subtly and sparingly so that the symbolism doesn't come across too heavy-handed. This is the reason the true nature of a symbolic character may only be fully understood at the very end of a story.

Winding it up,

When you wish to excel in English literature, it’s imperative you learn about all these types of characters. This will help you analyze the characters more efficiently, and you'll score good grades as well.

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