What Is Narrative Criticism?

By Mark Allan Powell | Go to book overview

5
Characters

Although the last chapter dealt ostensibly with events, it also had a good bit to say about characters. This is because, to adapt a metaphor from Perrine, characters and events are like two riders on a seesaw: movement at either end affects the other and it is the interaction of both that makes the plot work.l As novelist Henry James put it, “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”2

Characters are the actors in a story, the ones who carry out the various activities that comprise the plot. We think of them as people, though of course in some literature they may be animals, robots, or other nonhuman entities. A serpent plays a major role in the third chapter of Genesis and, in Judges 9:8–15, even the trees function as characters. Angels and demons make various appearances as nonhuman characters in the Gospels.

We should not limit our conception of characters to individuals, since it is possible for a group to function as a single character. In our Gospels, this is true not only of the crowds that follow Jesus but also of his disciples and the religious leaders. When the narrative reports that the disciples do something or say something, the reader does not imagine that these 12 individuals actually move or speak in unison. Such stereotyping is a conventional literary device by which a number of characters are made to serve a single role.


A NARRATIVE UNDERSTANDING OF CHARACTERS

Characters are constructs of the implied author, created to fulfill a particular role in the story. They are best regarded, however, as open

-51-

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What Is Narrative Criticism?
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Editor's Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1: Scripture as Story 1
  • 2: Ways of Reading 11
  • 3: Story and Discourse 23
  • 4: Events 35
  • 5: Characters 51
  • 6: Settings 69
  • 7: Story as Scripture 85
  • Appendix: Using Narrative Criticism in Exegesis 103
  • Abbreviations 107
  • Notes 109
  • For Further Reading 123
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