Real People or Verbal Constructs: A Stylistic Analysis of Character in Fiction

In: The State of Stylistics

The novel is an art form that belongs to the modern age and as such has been subjected to scrutiny for various reasons and varied purposes. For any lecturer teaching at the postgraduate level, the present scenario is fraught with danger. She has to contend with many ‘theories’ and negotiate her way through a minefield which puts her in a precarious position vis a vis her subject matter and her students. New developments that have taken place in the field of Literary Criticism and, Literary and Critical Theory have brought in a plethora of terms and expressions, and new ways of thinking and dealing with literary texts. So much so that the text itself has disappeared from view. These days, Literature is seen more as a tool to be used to expound a thesis and it is not studied in its own right. However, in order to restore literature to its primacy of place in Literature Studies a paradigm shift has to take place. One of the ways of doing this is by using Stylistics, which is a subject and a discipline of thinking divested of any ideology because it deals with the text in and by itself. My paper takes one aspect of the novel which is highly contested by critics and which has not received due attention from Stylisticians. This is Character and Characterisation. The paper reviews the hypotheses that deal with characters in novels as independent people and argues that characters are only verbal constructs. Indeed, characters should be subjected to linguistic analysis just as speech, narration or focalization. My theoretical premise derives from Rimmon Kenan (1983) and I extend it further by developing a framework for the analysis of character in fiction by using Halliday’s Functional Grammar (1985) and motif analysis of Narratologists. Through my analysis, I show how critics can be wrong in their interpretation of a character and for the purposes of illustration, I take Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart. (1958) for analysis.

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