Characters are essential towards literary works as they represent different notions and help to build on variety of ideas in which the author tries to communicate. Analyzing a character allows readers to explore or infer a wide range of values, cultural norms, assumptions, beliefs, and biases intended by the author.
How can readers interpret these aspects? Well, the author uses different methods of character development (such as diction, syntax, action sequences, and details) to reveal a character's perspective. Diction refers to the author's word choice, syntax refers to structure or organization, action sequences are the decisions or actions in which the characters take, and details are intentional elaborations formulated by the author. Each element is imperative towards understanding a poetry, or any text in general.
Dissecting the construction of a poem helps readers to analyze a the purpose of a character. Poems are crafted with many meaningful techniques. Throughout this unit, we will study the most impactful methods an author may use. This lesson in particular will focus on how dramatic situations as well as imagery can help readers identify characters in a poem.
What is the dramatic situation of a poem and how can readers determine it? A dramatic situation in poetry refers to a literary tool in which the author manipulates to communicate an underlying message or plot line about a character's circumstances.
When trying to determine the dramatic situation, readers may ask the following questions:
Who is the speaker? Is there more than one?
What is the setting? Where does the poem take place?
What are the state of affairs or conditions?
In some poems, the answers to these questions are more obvious than in others. It is important to realize that the way these answers are revealed help to build on a character's identity, just as much as the answers themselves. As a reader, ask why or why not are these details are clearly stated.
In Robert Browning's poem, "Porphyria's Lover", the answers to all of these questions are revealed: the speaker (a male psychopath) lives in a remote cottage (most likely in Renaissance Italy) is sitting near his mistress who he strangled. In other poems, it is up to the reader to assume or interpret certain details left out by the author. A reader could still be able to contemplate the poem without direct answers, seeing as the analysis itself to find the answers can give the audience a general understanding.
What are the essential images and figures of speech in the poem? Imagery refers to the "images" or literary concepts that appeal to senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing). Figures of speech refer to the phrases and words in which the author utilizes for a rhetorical, non-literal effect. Both literary tools can contribute to a character's identity as it provides implicit details of their motives.
When trying to determine the purpose of imagery and figures of speech, readers may ask the following questions:
What are the most prominent literal sensory objects? Are they repetitive?
Are there any similes or metaphors? (more information in 2.3)
Are there any patterns? (e.g. the author consistently makes comparisons between life morals and animals)
What if the author directly stated a certain phrase instead of using imagery or figures of speech? Would it have the same effect? Why or why not?
A common side effect of reading poetry is the challenge of identifying the difference between figurative and literal language. Let's use a hypothetical poem with the line "I love my orchids" as an example. The line may seem literal as it can indicate the speaker simply adores maintaining their orchids as a flower. On the other end of the spectrum, if the poem consistently uses "orchids" as a reference to the speaker's parents, the line would have a very different meaning ("I love my parents"). This implies how context in a poem, just as in any text, is significant towards understanding central ideas in which the author tries to establish.