Comparing Characters Essay

A compare-and-contrast essay might seem like the easiest type of paper to write: just find things that are alike and then find things that are different. Piece of cake, right? There’s a catch, however. It is up to you to argue why those similarities and differences matter; otherwise, you don’t have much of a paper. The following 8 easy steps will guide you through the process of writing an effective compare-and-contrast essay that actually has something valuable to say.

1) So they’re alike and they’re different. So what? A good paper will not simply offer a summary of themes, characters, or plot. Your job is to think about how these comparisons and contrasts create meaningful connections to a larger issue.

2) Create an effective thesis statement. Again, you need to say why the comparison and contrast is worthy of note. Let’s say you want to compare and contrast the heroines of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. Your thesis might be this: “Although Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre are very different on the outside, their shared internal values connects them in literary history and in the fight for women’s rights.” Now you have a reason for your efforts and a compelling case for your audience’s attention.

3) Select a pattern. There are two ways you can write a compare-and-contrast paper. You can present your arguments in a "tandem" pattern or an "alternating" pattern. 

  • Tandem. Separate your pros and cons into two camps. For example, if you are comparing Jane Austen’s Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice to the heroine of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, you would list all the ways in which the protagonists are similar and different. A rough list might look something like this:
Upper classDirt poor, orphan
Resists marriageResists marriage
Socially inappropriateSocially awkward
Ends up with her man,  
and all is well
Ends up with her man,
but only after trauma

Once you have your list, the body of your paper will address everything you have discovered about one character, then everything about the other character.

  • Alternating. If you opt for this choice, you will be juxtaposing Elizabeth and Jane’s pros and cons. Creating the list of likeness and differences will be handy here as well, but in using this method, you will continually address the two characters “back and forth” as you compose the body of your paper. For example, you might say, “Elizabeth is easy on the eyes, a traditional beauty, but Brontë’s Jane is continually described as plain and homely.”

4) How to decide on a pattern. While there is no rule about selecting one method over another, for longer papers (those that exceed five or six pages) you should probably go with the alternating pattern. It is hard for the reader to retain all the pertinent information about each side of your argument in lengthier discussions. For shorter papers, the tandem pattern will probably be the best bet.

5) Support with primary text. Support your analysis by providing primary textual support; in this case, the primary sources are the novels Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. For each point you address, whether in a tandem or an alternating pattern, offer textual evidence for your positions either by directly quoting from the text or by paraphrasing. Be sure to properly cite each quote or paraphrase in whatever format your instructor requests (e.g., MLA, Chicago, etc.).

6) Support with secondary sources, if required. Some instructors may ask that you use sources other than the text itself to support your argument. A secondary source is anyone other than the original author. Use secondary sources to provide additional backing for your thesis, especially in arguing for why the compare-and-contrast approach you have selected is valid.

7) Include your own voice. One of the biggest challenges for a writer is to offer his or her own take on a topic. You may feel that everyone else has already said everything there is to say about your subject. Don’t be discouraged! Your own interpretation is what is most valuable in the end.

8) Review. Revise. Repeat. Compare-and-contrast essays can often become convoluted if a tight check is not kept on your writing. Review your work often to make sure you have not suffered the sins of summarizing plot, soapboxing, or wandering pointlessly in the literary woods. Move or delete text if you have to: don’t keep trying to pound a piece into the puzzle if it clearly doesn’t fit. 

How to Write an Essay Comparing Two Characters

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In their daily life people usually compare different persons in order to demonstrate that someone is endowed with a given set of moral or physical qualities, and another one is not. School essays dedicated to comparison of two characters are written in a different context. Their goal is not only to describe two persons, to trace their actions, but also to shed some light upon the literary work in question, upon its message and main idea. By writing an essay comparing two characters you will need to show your ability to analyze their action, words and the message embodied in each of them.

Let’s now turn to the essence of your task. Usually such essays compare two positive characters that exemplify supreme moral ideals. Despite that, sometimes it is possible to compare one positive and one negative personality. Remember that it is not obligatory to criticize the negative character in question, but you rather need to explain his/her action, the motives and reasons for them. There cannot be any absolutely positive literary character (except in fairytales). In all cases, what you should do is to analyze the character in question and to try to relate him/her to a given social, cultural, historical process or event. In short, the best way to write such an essay is to see the character as an implementation of the “spirit of time”, and thus to compare it with another one.

The following instructions on how to write an essay comparing two characters will assist you in your assignment.

Writing an essay comparing two characters – 7 important tips

1. Read some critical analysis of both literary works

Whether you have read them or not, it is important to read them again and to focus your attention on the given personalities. Write down everything which you consider impressive and important about them such as physical appearance, way of speaking, actions, values and beliefs, personal traits, etc.

2. Choose your topic

If you have an opportunity to choose your topic, it is better to select two characters that you know very well.

3. Find the leitmotiff of the literary works in question

Try to relate both characters to it: poverty, freedom, love, friendship, and other topics. For instance, Hamlet and Faust are lonely men who eager to know more; Hamlet wants to know about the murderer of his father, and Faust is keen to know more about the world. Although the historical eras and the cultural background of both personalities are quite different, they can be still compared as two of the leading characters of the European literature since the Renaissance period.

4. Describe the characters (according to point 1)

Prove your observations by referring to quotes from them. Tell what are their motives, goals in life (or in a given situation), how are they perceived by the other characters, and so forth.

5. Find the similarities between both characters

Tell what seems similar in them (particularly their personal traits and qualities). Concentrate your efforts on a few points. It is not good to go into detail here. You can use two qualities of the persons and to prove them by quoting passages from the text.

6. Find the differences

Do the same as given above. Show that the characters differ in some way. Just think: is there anyone who is absolutely similar to anyone else in real life?

7. Formulate your conclusion

In your conclusion, say a few words why these characters can be associated with each other. What ideas they embed? To what extent these ideas are materialized in them?

Remember all the time that you have to prove your thoughts and theses by referring to quotes, passages and critical remarks done by renowned literary critics. You cannot simply say that Faust is a “lost soul” because he made a deal with the Devil. The best literary characters are the most difficult to be analysed, so be aware of this. 

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