What Is a Character Analysis Essay?

When you read a book or watch a film, in most cases, you explore stories about people, events, or relationships. And in most such stories, one or several central characters play major roles in the plot development. They can be weak or strong, courageous or cowardly, appealing or disgusting. Their actions may save or ruin lives, lead to wars or victories, and cause happiness or suffering. Whatever the image or role of major character is, you as a spectator are bound to understand and remember it. And one anyone asks you, “what was the book/film about?” you will explain your impressions and emotions. That’s what a character analysis essay typically does. 

So, why would someone write a character analysis essay? Such an assignment is typically given by supervisors wishing to understand how well you captured the story’s message and how you understood the key roles of its characters. And what is the purpose of a character analysis essay, you may ask? It’s most typically meant to hone your analytical skills and to teach you to discern some vital human traits through the character’s interactions with others, their words, and actions. Besides, characters created by an author often tell much about the creator. Therefore, by crafting a well-written character analysis essay, you can actually offer in-depth analysis of the book’s author or film director. 

How to Write a Character Analysis Essay

Once we have clarified the significance of character analysis essays in literature studies and analytical thinking development, it’s time to find out how to write a character analysis essay step by step. Here are the major stages such work involves: 

  1. Select three most evident features of your analyzed character and shape your arguments around them. 
  2. Formulate the thesis statement. It should be the central idea, the major impression you received about the character that you will explore in the essay. 
  3. Complete a detailed outline. Single out the points you’ll argue and add some evidence for each of them to form a paragraph. 
  4. Complete every paragraph using a universal structure (a topic sentence with the key idea of the paragraph, evidence and arguments supporting it, and a wrap-up). 

Now that the process is clear, you might still have questions about how to start a character analysis essay. It’s indeed a challenge for many, as the first paragraph determines whether your essay will fail or fly. So, make sure you capture the audience’s attention with an exciting quote, a bold statement about your character, or an attention-grabbing question. These techniques usually work quite well as hooks for essays. 

What Can I Write About? 

Those interested in how to do a character analysis essay often face problems with the content. As they have read a book or watched a film, everything seems interesting to them, so they risk including too much detail in a small essay. Others find it hard to determine the key ideas, something that lies behind regular scenes and dialogues in the work of fiction. If you’re one of these people and need some content choice help, here are the guiding questions to help you out: 

  1. What have you found out about the character’s appearance? Character? Type of personality? 
  2. What are the character’s relationships with other story participants? Are they negative/romantic/friendly/perplexing? 
  3. Is there any transformation that the character goes through during the story? What is their learning experience? 
  4. Does the character come across emotional experiences? 
  5. What is the learning message for the reader? What does the author try to show to the audience through their character? 
  6. What is the character’s motivation behind their actions? What are the consequences of those actions? 
  7. How does the character treat other characters? Are they evil or kind? Do they treat others fairly or unjustly? 
  8. What are the character’s words and manner of expression? How do they use words? What is the impact of their judgments? 
  9. What is the overall image of the character, as seen by themselves and others in the story? 

Use these questions as a prompt. You are sure to come up with many useful ideas for outlining your essay. 

Now, talking about how to improve a character analysis essay, we can recommend two major techniques. 

  1. Check for redundancy. Did you cite several situations saying the same about the character? Then unite them and make a single point; such an approach will be much more understandable for the audience. 
  2. Quote. Your inference from a book or film remains a subjective guess unless you support that inference with evidence. Let the reader decide whether you made the right conclusion from what you read or watched. In some cases, the audience may not agree or may find some deeper meanings in the cited fragments. 

Character Analysis Essay Outline 

Before you start writing an essay, it’s helpful to compose an outline that will serve as your guideline for the actual writing process. Here are pro instructions on how to write a character analysis essay outline, with a standard 5-paragraph essay. 


This is your essay’s introduction. It should contain the introduction to the work of fiction and its character you’re analyzing. Introduce the book or film, name the character, and formulate your concise thesis statement – your overall characterization of the analyzed character. Be sure to explain why you picked that character, what you liked or disliked about them, what key features you discerned in them, and whether you know anybody (fictional or real) like them. 


This is the body of your essay where you can dedicate one paragraph to one feature. Examine it in detail, cite relevant book/film scenes to back up your arguments, and make relevant conclusions from the quotes and their analysis. 


Here you wrap the whole analysis up. Restate your thesis and explain in more detail what the character’s features mean and what their role is in the work of fiction. 

Character Analysis Essay Example 

Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is reasonably considered one of the world’s most brilliant works of literature. In this novel, Fitzgerald skillfully examines inherited versus acquired wealth and ponders over the legitimacy of the cherished American dream. Though Jay Gatsby and his former lover, Daisy Buchanan, seem to be the central characters in the novel, the image of Daisy’s husband, Tom, also demands attention. Fitzgerald succeeded in depicting a dominant, arrogant, and peacocky man that is a product of his wealth and status. This essay examines the character of Tom from the viewpoint of his embodiment of the ills of the American upper social class. 

The first impression that the narrator voices about Tom is his physical appeal. A Yale football star, an active participant of elite club sports, and a physically prone man, Tom is an attractive, strong man. Nick described him as “one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savours of anti-climax” (Fitzgerald 12). However, Tom’s physique coupled with high status and sense of entitlement (giving him the sense of infallibility and total superiority) soon come into sharp contrast with his intellectual limitations.  

Besides being not well-educated, Tom quickly spoils Nick’s opinion by voicing his aggressive, white supremacist views. When telling Nick and Daisy about a book he has just finished, Tom says, ““Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.” This expression reveals that Tom is a racist looking down his nose at all people around him, let alone representatives of other races.  

Besides, Tom shows himself as a violent and aggressive man, acting disconcertingly and cruelly with women. Though Daisy mentioned several instances of home violence by Tom, she still was his wife and required an attitude corresponding to her similarly high social standing. Therefore, Tom expressed his violent drives with lower-class women with which he had multiple love affairs, satisfying his desires without any concern for morale and feelings of other people, like Daisy or his lover’s husband. 

Thus, as one can see, Tom’s character is an embodiment of the American high society as seen by Fitzgerald. Tom’s attitude to people and violent actions suggest that super-rich people live beyond the constraints of law or morality, thinking only about satisfying their desires and drives. Tom still remains a well-rounded character embodying the evils of wealth and self-assigned privilege allowing rich people to ruin other people’s lives for the sake of their well-being and comfort. 

How to Quote in Character Analysis Essay 

Since you analyze a character of a specific work of fiction, using quotes from that work is unavoidable. Here is a couple of quoting conventions to follow: 

  • Don’t just throw the quote in the text, leaving the reader wondering what it is for. Introduce the quote first to aid the reader’s understanding of its meaning. 
  • Don’t forget about giving credit to the author. Put down the author’s last name and page number in parentheses. It’s needed for the readers to double-check the quote if they want to explore it in context. 
  • Use double quotation marks for the direct quote (if you take some text directly) and use single quotation marks for repeated quotations of text fragments cited before. 

Here are some examples for your guidance: 


In the short story ‘Yellow Wallpaper’, Charlotte Perkins Gilman criticized the patriarchal organization of contemporary families and dealt extensively with neglect and disrespect that women’s issues face. As her character noted, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman 5). This quote exemplifies the gender inequality and common disregard to mental health problems Gilman observed. 


The theme of American dream and its illusory nature is interwoven in the plot of The Great Gatsby. Its greatest victim is Gatsby himself, believing that “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…” (Fitzgerald 9.149). The quote exemplifies Gatsby’s sacred belief in every person’s ability to become better and achieving their dreams if they try hard enough. 


One of the central themes in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is sadness about growing up and the need to transition from adolescence to adulthood. As Holden noted in Chapter 2, “After I shut the door and started back to the living room, he yelled something at me, but I couldn’t exactly hear him. I’m pretty sure he yelled “Good luck!” at me. I hope not. I hope to hell not. I’d never yell “Good luck!” at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it.” (Salinger 2.78) This quote illustrates how the depressed Holden sees sad things even in the most cheerful moments, such as wishing luck to a friend. 

Popular Mistakes in a Character Analysis Essay 

All students approaching this task are wondering, how to write a good character analysis essay? There are some tips to improve your overall content, and most of them relate to the writing mechanics (content improvements are provided above): 

  • First, try to avoid contractions in the text. Keep in mind that you’re writing an academic piece. So, the only places where contradictions will do are the direct quotes from the work. In all other cases, use the full forms of words to sound competent. 
  • Academic works are primarily composed in the third-person narrative forms. Thus, you should avoid first- or second-person addresses to the audience as these formulations reduce the professionalism of your voice. 
  • Avoid using slang by all means as it’s a colloquial form of language unacceptable in academic essays. Again, slang is fine in direct quotes or when you explain the meanings of some words used by the author. In all other cases, these are unwelcome guests in your essay. 
  • Make sure your tense use is consistent. Never jump from past to present and back again. These abrupt shifts confuse the readers and make the essay grammatically wrong.
  • Double-check your work for typos. The worst you can do is create an impression of careless, reckless writing. If the supervisor notes many errors in the text, they are sure to downgrade your work severely, even if it contains excellent content. 
  • Underline or italicize the book’s/film’s title in the character analysis text. This academic convention helps the readers see where the title is. 

How to Write a Characters Essay without Actually Reading a Book? 

Unfortunately, there will be no spoilers. There is no way to write a top-notch character analysis essay without reading a book or watching a film. You can read a hundred reviews of other people, but completing a perfect essay is possible only if you feel all the nuances, the writer’s voice and tone, and generate your own impression about the character in the process of reading. Otherwise, you risk submitting just another mediocre essay and getting another mediocre grade for it.