The protagonist is the main character in a story, novel, drama, or other literary work, the character that the reader or audience empathizes with. The antagonist opposes the protagonist. In the most archetypical narratives, this boils down to bad guy vs. good guy: Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vadar in the first Star Wars movie, for instance. But this is not always the case. In more complex literature, the protagonist is a complex character that displays some flaw. This flaw helps the reader relate to the humanity of the protagonist.
Direct and Indirect Characterization
Objective- Determine whether Scho, the main character in Richard Wilbur’s “A Game of Catch” is a winner or loser and explain how the story’s point of view influences a reader’s interpretation.
Objective: After reading “All the Years of Her Life” by Morley Callahan, identify the dynamic character in the story and explain what is learned.
Essentially, a static character is largely the same person at the end of the story as he was in the beginning. Any character in a compelling story experiences some life changes and variation in his environment, but what distinguishes a static character is usually his existing persona, confidence and appeal to readers. More compelling, heroic and charismatic characters often work better as static characters than ones who must undergo change to appeal to the audience and to significantly affect a story. Sherlock Holmes or Tom Sawyer would be examples of static characters.
A dynamic character is often easier to build a compelling story around. Dynamic character might go through a major life transition, have a coming-of-age experience, pull through trials and tribulations, mature, have a change of heart or develop more likeable qualities — or take a turn for the worse. A common misconception is that a dynamic character has an electric, charismatic personality. In fact, the term “dynamic” doesn’t define the character’s qualities, but rather refers to how those qualities change over time. A changing character is important to the theme as the character’s learning is often what the reader takes away also.
Putting It All Together
Objective: Students will evaluate structure and style in Shirley Jackson’s“Charles”, and explain why Laurie behaves the way he does at school.
- Discuss the point of view of the story and explain why this is an important characterization device by identifying the dynamic character in the story and explaining what this character learns.
- In order for a surprise ending to be effective, there has to be some hint in the story to the actual outcome. Identify the clues that Shirley Jackson plants that foreshadow the ending.
Listen to the Audio Version of the story.
Objective: Identify the theme of “The Phoenix” and explain how the story communicates this central message about life or human nature.
Theme is the unifying idea or central message about life or human nature. Theme is often, but not always, alluded to in the title. By analogy, theme can be determined by the following formula:
Theme = (conflict + resolution) (character’s responses) (readers’s response)
If the reader’s response is part of the equation and individual reader’s could have different responses, it stands to reason that there can be more than one correct interpretation of the theme of a story. Any theme can be valid if it can be consistently supported. In order to identify the theme, the reader should consider the following:
- Does a character change in some significant way? If so, what the character learns is the insight about life or human nature that the reader learns. Dynamic characterization is a clue to theme.
- Is there a direct statement about the theme in the story? “All the Years of Her Life” presents one when the author tells the reader that Alfred Higgins realizes his youth is over because his actions are causing his mother stress.
- How does the title figure in to the story? If the title is mentioned in the story, this is a clue to the theme.
- Consider the conflict carefully. If it is a man vs. nature or man vs. society conflict, then what is the author saying about the relationship between these domains?
Still confused? Try watching this informational video on how to identify theme in literature.
Writing a theme statement is a skill onto itself. The following guidelines should help readers crystalize the perfect analysis of the central idea of a story into something that resembles a pithy tweet.
- Always write a theme statement in a complete sentence. A theme of “All the Years of Her Life” would not be motherhood. That is an idea. A theme could be, “Sometimes motherhood presents more challenges than rewards.”
- Be sure that the theme statement accounts for all parts of the story. If any part does not fit, revise your theme statement.
- Steer clear of absolutes like “never” or “will” and use more ambiguous terms like “sometimes” or “may”. Writers are only observing human nature which is not absolute.
- Avoid cliches like “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Make an original statement about life or human nature.
The Phoenix is a magnificence bird and its tragic demise in this story takes thousands of people with it. Clearly, the fate of this mythological figure is not what this story is about.
Read “The Phoenix” and prepare a response to the following prompt: What does this story state about life or human nature that is an important message for contemporary audiences.
Objective: Students will apply their knowledge of literary devices such as irony and tone to identify the meaning and purpose of a story.
- Verbal Irony– saying the opposite of what you mean.
- Situational Irony– circumstances or events occur that are the opposite of what is expected.
- Dramatic Irony– when the audience knows something that the characters do not.
Explain how the author uses situational irony for comic effect.
Explain how the author uses situational irony for dramatic effect.
Objective: Students will identify the theme of James Hurst’s “The Scarlet Ibis” by identifying the constructed symbol used by the author and explaining how this symbol enhances the theme.
A symbol is The use of a concrete object to represent an abstract idea. Authors use symbols to enhance a reader’s interpretation of the theme.
There are two types of symbols:
- Universal symbols have common meanings, are frequently used, and cross cultural boundaries (colors and seasons are good examples of universal symbols.
- Constructed symbols are objects in which the meaning is represented through the context of the story in which it is used.
To identify a symbol, readers should look for the following clues that an object is an important symbol:
- title of the story
- author provides vivid description of the object or directly suggests its symbolic meaning
- object appears several times throughout the story
- object will be mentioned in key scenes.
Practice: Watch this humorous video, “The Right Way to Tie Your Shoe” and explain what concept tying a shoe may represent. This video can help explain how to identify a theme in literature.
Objective: Students will identify the mood in either “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs, or “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe (text, pp 38-49) and explain how this mood enhances the plot of the story.
The mood of a story is the feeling that the reader gets usually established through the
- careful word choice
- visual imagery
- figurative language
Fundamentally, mood differs from tone by perspective Tone, remember, is the author’s attitude towards his subject. Mood is the impression that the reader gets. The distinction is subtle because both are created using the same devices, but tone is generally outside the story whereas mood is inside the story. If it’s confusing, fear not. No one in life, I promise, will ever grill you on this. If you can talk about either, it’s all good.
Media Analysis This story has often been performed on stage and several film versions of the story exist as well. Watch Film Adaptation of “The Monkey’s Paw” and explain how the director establishes mood in film.
Watch the Film Adaptation of “The Tell Tale Heart” and explain how the director establishes mood in the film.
Multi Media Presentation: Do a dramatic reading of the story. Try to articulate the right tone in the narrator’s voice.
EXTRA CREDIT OPTION: Compare the theme of this story with the theme of “The Phoenix”
Putting it All Together
Objective: Identify the theme of “The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield and explain how she uses literary elements and devices to develop that central message. Do the same for “Raymond’s Run,” and then compare the use of one common literary technique in its development of the theme in both stories.
A foil character is a characterization technique in which one character is portrayed as opposite of another character in a particular way. The difference serves to highlight that particular characteristic, which would make it important to the meaning of the story. In the story, “The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield, the Boss and Woodifield are foil characters. Why is this significant?
Unit Test Review