Questions relating to the analysis of characters in works of literature: for example, their traits, construction, or other aspects. This tag should be used together with any relevant work, series, or author tags.
What exactly do we mean by traits? A person's ethnicity is certainly one of that person's traits, but to claim that ethnicity is part of a person's character tips over into racism. The problem here appears to be that character is doing double duty. On the one hand, character refers to the invented personages that populate the fictional world created by a writer: e.g., Elizabeth Bennet is a character in Pride and Prejudice. On the other hand, character also means the psychological makeup, moral values, overall disposition, etc. of an individual: e.g., Elizabeth is witty and ethical, but quick to judgment.
The tag character-analysis seems to cover either or both of these senses of the term, depending on the question:
- How Bacchus fits into a Christian allegory is a question about the character's role within a fictional universe, i.e., it uses character in the first sense.
- At what point Leontes becomes jealous is a question about his emotions, using character in the second sense.
- Whether Klipspringer is meant to be gay straddles both senses of the term, asking how the character is supposed to function in the fictional world and what Klipspringer's internal makeup is.
A look at the tag wiki excerpt's history shows that this dual use of the tag is intended, which is fine. But this double duty leads to the problem where if we say that a given character is supposed to be a particular ethnicity, we also slip silently into saying that this ethnicity is part of that person's character, thereby trafficking in stereotypes.
The dangers of negative ethnic stereotyping are, I hope, too obvious to require rehearsal here. But even when couched in allegedly positive terms, attributions of character traits to ethnicity are ultimately harmful. For example, researchers at Northwestern U have noted:
Although people commonly hold positive stereotypes about Asians' mathematical skills, making those stereotypes salient prior to performance can create the potential for "choking" under the pressure of high expectations.
"When Positive Stereotypes Threaten Intellectual Performance: The Psychological Hazards of 'Model Minority' Status." By Sapna Cheryan and Galen V. Bodenhausen. Psychological Science Vol. 11 No. 5, September 2000, pp. 399–402.
I rolled back the edit that added character-analysis to the Wuthering Heights question for this reason. I am certain that no implication was intended that Heathcliff's ethnicity determined his character, but the ambiguous tag might lead to the accusation that we are being racist. One could of course make an argument that Heathcliff's character is shaped by the other people's treatment of him because of his ethnicity, but (1) that's rather different from attributing his character to some innate traits based on ethnicity, and (2) the question isn't about that.
The tag wiki excerpt as it currently stands also leaves ambiguous to what construction refers. A character's physical frame, like "How tall is Cedric Diggory?" Or how the writer uses vocabulary, style, and allusion to direct the reader to form a certain psychological and physical image of the character? The excerpt's revision history makes clear construction started off as the latter. But I think that in the current iteration of the excerpt we'd fall into a sort of phrenological determinism because of this ambiguity.