How to analyse characters

Rapper, Double S, discusses the themes in the Harry Potter books and how he relates to and takes inspiration from the characters when making his music

When analysing characters from a text, you need to have lots of ideas and you need to explain them clearly.

In order to show your understanding of character, you should always make a suggestion that is based on the evidence from the text and try to structure your answer to help you to make crucial points.

You can use the IDEAS technique to help structure your answer.

Character task

Have a look at the following extract from a book called Face by Benjamin Zephaniah.

In this extract, Natalie is a student and lives in East London. She is out with her boyfriend and his friends. They have stopped to chat with some boys from school.

Once you have read the extract, answer the question underneath and check your ideas against the example answer. You can use the bullet points to help you.

After a couple of minutes she realised that her every move was being watched by a group of three girls and she couldn't help noticing how tough they looked. All three were wearing dark blue baggy jeans. She was pretty sure they were Londoners born and bred but thought they could find a job working for the Jamaican tourist board, not simply because of their dark skin but also because of their clothing. One had a T-shirt saying 'I love Jamaica'. Another wore a T-shirt that was a Jamaican flag and the third just had a West Ham football shirt on, but she, like the others, was adorned with yellow, black and green bangles, badges and necklaces. Natalie thought they looked good, but dangerous.

Natalie shifted nervously. She didn't know quite where to look but she had to put on a front. The other three girls made no attempt to hide the fact that they were on Natalie's case. They began to whisper to each other and smile as they stared at her. Natalie felt illuminated in her green satins and began to wish she had chosen clothes which weren't so loud. What are they grinning at? she wondered. Is it my clothes? My shoes? My hair? Do I look too innocent? Suddenly the three girls began to walk toward Natalie. Her heart began to race, the palms of her hands began to sweat. She felt like falling apart but she held herself together.

"You from round here, den?" said the big girl wearing the Jamaican flag.

"Yeah".

"What school yu go to, den?"

"Eastmorelands."

"Yeah, I wanid to go there but they wouldn't let me, said I had ta go ta Lonsdale Park, said it was nearer. What ya doing here?"

The other two girls continued to look her up and down. Natalie expected trouble and in her mind she cursed the boys for bringing her there and for the way they had got lost in their silly conversation about football and cars.

"I'm just hanging around with my boyfriend and his mates."

At this point the girl wearing the West Ham shirt reached into her back pocket. Natalie swallowed hard as the girl pulled out a couple of leaflets. After separating one from the other she handed one to Natalie. "Dat's the place to be, check it out, good vibes, good music. Ya like rap?"

Natalie wanted to kick herself. She had completely misread the situation. They weren't out for a fight, they wanted to find out if she liked clubbing. They wanted to find out if she was one of them, an Eastender.

"Yeah," Natalie replied, feeling a sense of relief. "Yeah, rap's cool..." She began to wonder if she sometimes looked threatening and if she herself had been misjudged in the past. For people to be friendly, did they have to have permanent smiles on their faces?

Face by Benjamin Zephaniah

Question

How does the writer show Natalie's thoughts and feelings changing during the extract?

You should refer to:

  • her first reactions to the girls she sees
  • the way she acts just before, and when, they speak to her
  • her thoughts at the end of the passage

Identify - Just before the girls speak to her, Natalie seems even more anxious when she 'shifted nervously'.

Describe - She is used to being out on the streets of London and feels she needs to put on a front and look tough. She is afraid they may be laughing at her clothes or hair, and moving 'nervously' makes her seem insecure about herself. However, when the girls come up to speak to her she hides her nerves and answers their questions. The way she uses short answers like "Yeah” suggests she does not want to give too much away about herself or get into a fight.

Explore - When she realises the girls are actually being friendly and want to give her a flyer for a club, Natalie's feelings change completely. She is ashamed of being suspicious and feels like 'kicking herself'. She realises the girls are 'Eastenders just like her'.

Analyse - By referring to herself and them as 'Eastenders', this shows that she feels a sense of companionship with them. This is also echoed in the way that they speak to each other with slang terms, such as "Dat's the place to be, check it out, good vibes, good music. Ya like rap?".

aSsess - The writer shows how this makes Natalie think about her own image. She wonders if people think she looks threatening, too. At this point she comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful girl who wants to learn how to judge people fairly in the future.