How to Write a College Analysis Essay

Defining the Role

Whether you’re putting together an analysis of a main character or a minor character, it is important that your essay address the role she plays in the story. Some roles, such as the protagonist and antagonist, may be obvious. Main characters can also serve more complex roles than the simple protagonist definition. A lead character can be an underdog, an anti-hero, a tragic hero or even an unwilling hero.

Discovering the purpose of a minor character often takes closer examination. Minor characters may be flat, two-dimensional people who remain unchanged throughout the course of a story, or three-dimensional, rounded characters who experience their own metamorphosis. These characters might serve as foils for the main characters, as older and wiser advisers, as sidekicks or even as obstacles the main characters must overcome.

Finding Motivation

Everyone wants something, especially a character in a literary work. Whether a hero desperate to complete a quest, a villain determined to stop him or a minor character along for the ride, each character in a story will have identifiable wants and needs.

Quite often, though, what a character wants is in direct opposition to what he really needs. For example, a man longing for the attention of a woman out of his league might need to realize that he’ll only find true love when he sees his female sidekick in a romantic light. At the college level, character analysis essays should go beyond simply identifying the wants and needs
motivating the characters; they should also address how the characters affect one another.

Addressing the Arc

While some minor characters are unchanging, most characters will be markedly different at the end of a story than they were at the beginning. While main characters, such as the protagonist, often make the most dramatic, obvious changes, minor characters also have a story arc. They might make only subtle changes, such as a sidekick quietly letting go to allow the hero to find love or finish her mission alone. The arcs of unchanging characters should also be addressed, as they will most likely have encountered situations in which they’ve made the choice not to change.

  • Describe the physical appearance of the character and explain what the appearance reveals about the person.
  • Discuss the language that the character uses throughout the work. Does the character use the same language throughout or does his or her choice of language change from the introduction to the conclusion?
  • If provided, include details about the background of the character (some of these details may have to be inferred). Where/when was the character born and raised? What kind of education does the character have? How does the character’s past experience influence what he or she does or says?
  • Write about the personality of the character. Does the character act on emotions or reason? What values does the character exhibit through words or actions? Does the character have goals or ambitions?
  • Describe and analyze the relationships that the character has with others in the story. Does the character lead or follow others in the story? Does the character have close friends and family?
  • Explain the struggle or conflict that the character faces beyond the obvious – what are the internal struggles as well as the external conflicts.
  • Describe the important actions of the character. What do these actions tell the reader about the character and how the character faces the conflict?

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