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Compare and Contrast Characters

By November 8, 2011

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I have been teaching community college courses in literature for over ten years now. That means that I have probably graded over a thousand essays by now. (A graveyard-chill just passed over me just now as I reflect on how many hours I must have spent grading all those papers!) One of the ways I maintain my sanity is by keeping the topics fresh. I don't want to read about the themes of Hamlet every single semester. Instead, I want students to explore ideas even I haven't considered before.

One essay prompt that has generated a lot of success focuses on character analysis. But not just character analysis from a single play. My literature students will study two play of their choice and then compare and contrast a character from each play. For example, two semesters ago I was very impressed with a student's essay topic. She analyzed the similarities between Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman and Troy Maxson from August Wilson's Fences. Even though these two men have lead very different lives, they have both strove for their version of the American dream, a struggle that ultimately costs them dearly.

Sounds like an interesting assignment? Leave a comment and tell us which two characters would make an awesome compare/contrast essay.

Comments

November 10, 2011 at 9:10 pm
(1) just a girl says:

Minor character compare/contrast: Mitch from “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Amos Hart from “Chicago”. Both men are seemingly feeble “nice guys” who are hopelessly in love with desperate, attention-starved female protagonists. In both cases, the protagonists are not truly thrilled by the men for this exact reason – both prefer danger and fleeting romance to steadfast love, yet both take advantage of the offers of security.

Additionally, both men end up doing a great deal of damage to those they claim to love. Mitch openly calls Blanche too “dirty” to marry and ultimately upsets her delicate mental balance, Amos’ confession sends Roxie to jail, though bending the truth slightly could easily have saved her. (Granted, not confessing completely would have been an obstruction of justice.)

November 10, 2011 at 9:17 pm
(2) just a girl says:

I would also point out that the reason both men are attracted to these women is that, on the surface, both Roxie Hart and Blanche Dubois seem glamorous, as the attention-starved often strive to appear.

November 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm
(3) azdramatist says:

How about Hedda Gabler and Blanche DuBois? Blanche could be a guest at Hedda’s house. It would be interesting to know whether or not she would aid and abet Hedda or if she would expose her for burning Lovborg’s manuscript? I guess it would just depend on which action would be in Blanche’s best interest. By the way, sorry to use another “Streetcar” character, but Tennessee Williams is my god.

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