Sometimes two characters are clearly alike, while other times it’s not as obvious. In order to write a successful character comparison, you must move beyond a description of the characters and analyze how they relate to each other. You should examine both characters’ individual roles in their respective literary works to understand how they contribute to the overall meaning of the text.
Let’s take a look at eight steps for writing a character comparison.
1. Choose two characters
The first step to writing a character comparison is to determine two characters you want to compare. Before you start comparing, revisit parts of the text where each character appears. Take note of the various character descriptions throughout the text and become familiar with the role of each character.
A few popular choices for writing character comparisons:
- Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov, Crime and Punishment
- Hamlet and Laertes, Hamlet
- Lucy Manette and Madame Defarge, A Tale of Two Cities
- Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker, The Great Gatsby
2. Establish a purpose for comparison
Why are you comparing these two specific characters? Are you comparing to find meaningful similarities and differences or is it to demonstrate your understanding of the work as a whole? By establishing a purpose, you’re laying the foundation for your comparison and can refer back to it when you start to analyze each character.
Several reasons for comparing two characters:
- Compare how each character’s actions and attributes affect the plot
- Major similarities or differences in character can show what themes the author wants to emphasize
- Explain how the relationship between the characters provides deeper understanding of the themes
3. Describe the characters
This is a good time to refer to any earlier notes you’ve taken about specific characters in the text: physical descriptions, style of dialogue, narrative elements, etc. It may be helpful to create a two column chart where you can list the traits of each character and cross reference your findings. Remember to always cite direct textual evidence!
Important points to consider:
- Physical descriptions
- Beliefs / Values
- Descriptions by narrator and other characters
4. Identify similarities and differences
Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will compare and contrast—consider both the similarities and differences. Once you’ve determined the traits of each character, identify the similarities and differences between them. Focus on the overarching personal qualities or nature of the two characters rather than describing their physical features.
For example, if you’re writing about Pride and Prejudice, don’t write something like, “Darcy is a man, and Elizabeth is a woman.” Instead, write something like this: “Despite the fact that Darcy is a man and rich and Elizabeth is a woman and relatively poor, they share the following characteristics: ____.” And then finish by supplying striking examples in a way that explains the novel for your readers.
5. Formulate a thesis
Your thesis statement should reflect your purpose for comparing two characters and incorporate the effects their similarities and differences have on your essay. Refer back to your purpose for comparing characters as well as your list of similarities and differences in order to formulate the main claim you’re making in the essay.
- Though both members of the same social circles, Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker reveal the freedoms and restrictions imposed on women in The Great Gatsby.
- Though both receive prophecies from the witches. Macbeth and Banquo react differently to the news, illustrating through contrast the corrupting effects of power and pride.
6. Form a conclusion
Fill in the blanks of the following statements:
- “I am comparing these two characters in order to show ____ about the work.”
- “These characters share the following characteristics: ___.”
- “These characters differ in the following ways: ____.”
- “These similarities and differences relate to the essential meaning of the work because ____.”
Once you’re able to complete these statements, refer back to your thesis for your character comparison. Have you gathered enough information to make an accurate comparison between the two characters? Have you demonstrated your understanding of the work as a whole?
For example, If you’re writing about Shakespeare’s Hamlet and you compare Marcellus and Gertrude, you’ve pretty much demonstrated you don’t understand the play well, because there’s little meaningful connection between the two. On the other hand, if you compare Ophelia and Hamlet, as two adults following their respective fathers’ advice to their deaths, you’ve demonstrated superior comprehension.
7. Structure your comparison
Consider how you will compare the characters. Broadly speaking, there are two general ways to structure your comparison:
- You can write about both characters in each paragraph (paragraph 2: A’s appearance, B’s appearance; paragraph 3: A’s motivation, B’s motivation, etc).
- You can write all about A, then all about B, and relate both characters to each other in a following paragraph.
No matter which structure you choose, remember why you’re comparing these two characters. You must always make a larger argument about the meaning of the similarities and differences, and you must always support those arguments with specific examples from the work.
Once you’ve outlined the structure of your character comparison, you’re finally ready to write! Make sure that all of the information in your essay is accurate and can be supported by the text. Once you’ve finished writing, it’s always a good idea to proofread your work and make revisions if necessary.
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