The Chosen

Tortured Victory: Chaim Potok's characterization of Reb Saunders

In Literature and Language we are told that literary characterization is accomplished in three ways: "The reader learns about a character through the character's words and actions,...and through what other characters say about him...(p.44)" In most cases, there is a correlation between the quantity of data available, and the vividness manifested in each character; in other words, the more information we get about a character, the better we know them. One need only look at any of canon literature's well-known characters to see the sense of this: Shakespeare's Hamlet, for example - arguably the most vivid of all characters. How do we know Hamlet so well? Because his creator endowed him with ample action (the play totals 3,880 lines in all), ample verbiage (the vast majority of the 3,880 lines are spoken by Hamlet himself) and ample description (the majority of the lines not spoken by Hamlet are spoken about him). Hence, drawing conclusions about Hamlet, the character, becomes as easy as catching fish in an aquarium: just grab a net and scoop.

How, then, is a reader to reconcile a literary work when characterization is severely lacking in scope and quantity? When a character does little, says even less, and is...

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