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What does it mean to compare? It means to match, to put two objects next to each other and examine them from some point of view in order to find similar and different points. Consequently, there should be some common starting point, based on which some objects (events, processes, phenomena, characters, etc.) will be compared. This common point is called the basis of comparison. If there is no comparison basis, there can be no comparison at all.
How does an essay conduct the analysis of two subjects: compares them, contrasts them? Maybe both together?
Let’s speak about an essay when it is required comparing or contrasting two literary characters. They can be compared only based on the revealing of personal features of each of them. Nevertheless, it is important to show a parallel characteristic, to conduct parallel analysis instead of just describing the characteristics of one protagonist, and then, of the other one. When making such a mistake, we get two little essays about two characters instead of one holistic essay.
First, it is appropriate to consider general features that the characters have, and then, the opposite ones. Since every character has something special, individual, a comparative principle gives the opportunity to notice this “special” feature and present it in a paper.
The comparison of the secondary characters with a protagonist gives the opportunity to see better the dominating features of both, the peculiarities of their tempers, to underline some particular qualities of main characters. For example, someone can look more impressive and brighter as a personality compared to someone else.
It is necessary to compare based on significant and not secondary features and, of course, the features should be the same. Also, it is necessary to look for similarity and difference simultaneously. If we consider only similarity or only difference, we might come to an incomplete distorted understanding of objects, phenomena, events, and characters. It is important to bear in mind that in some cases we need to focus more on similarities, in some other cases we focus more on differences.
General and brief essay outline
This outline is quite generalized. It fits any type of compare and contrast paper regardless of its topic. Now we want to present another outline, which is more specific and more detailed.
The outline of comparative characteristic of two and more objects / events / phenomena / processes / characters
1) On what basis the images can be compared?
2) What makes them different (differences can be based on the same points presented previously).
3) What is the point of the comparison of the characters (or their contrast, or mutual complement)?
4) The significance of the images for the development of plot.
5) The characteristic of the images (if it is present).
6) What is the attitude of an author to the characters (author’s evaluation of the images)?
3. The role and significance of compared images for the revealing of the main idea of text.
The best way to study the characters is to compare them…
Two things that do not have the ground for comparison, or in other words, the objects that do not have any common point (for example, an ink bottle and free will) can never be opposed to one another (i.e. cannot be compared).
Have you ever heard a teacher reading the papers of the students and complaining that they cannot write properly? Have you ever seen a student suffering when trying to create some type of essay on any topic? If yes, the next question is whether you have ever thought about how to help a poor teacher and a poor student? The answer is obvious: to teach and to learn to compare since the fifth year of studying at school. In general, the earlier, the better.
This particular type of essay is a very common assignment at the final and entrance exams. It is believed that the capability to compare is one of the highest intellectual abilities. If a student is able to make comparison based on a literature text, he / she should be provided with an opportunity to do it. Thus, an exam provides this opportunity and lets a student demonstrate his / her writing skills and knowledge.
It is well-known that comparison is one of the logic operations of thinking that includes the search for common features and different points of the objects. Scientists-psychologists believe that the ability to compare is closely related to the level of thinking development. The fact of whether a person is capable of finding the ground for comparing, for explaining the principle, based on made comparison, defines the fact of whether his / her thinking and language are developed well (or not).
Goethe’s Faust strove to see all the phenomena of the world in their interrelationship and interaction, in order to understand how they form a unitary whole. However, we do not need to look at the world as widely as Faust, and we can (and should) be more specific, especially when it is required to create a particular type of an essay on a particular topic.
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The goal of creation of an essay is not about stating the most obvious features but about the illumination of slightly noticeable different points or hard-to-notice similar features between two objects.
The very first question that we need to think about when we want to compare some objects is what the goal of their comparison is. What new will we know when comparing the episodes, characters, philosophical views and so on? What does comparison give us and how does it contribute to understanding of the literary world of an author?
For example, when the students get the assignment to compare two characters of the same literary work, let’s say a novel, the teachers often have the same complaint – there is almost no comparison at all. The text of an essay often presents two absolutely not related to each other parts: the first one is the characteristic of the first protagonist, and the second one is the characteristic of the second protagonist.
So maybe it is necessary to discuss with the students what comparison and contrasting mean, first and foremost. Usually, comparison reveals and emphasizes pretty strong contrasts between two characters. We can see that one character can be pretty intelligent, in the meantime, the other one will seem quite silly. They can have relatively similar inner world and many common points or, on the contrary, almost everything can be opposite.
The students need to have kind of sample, so that they could understand how to write and what to write about at least approximately. In such a way, it will be easier and clearer for students to create a really good essay that will bring a high grade.
There can be quite complicated composition relationships between the characters of a literary work. The simplest and most common case is the contrasting of two characters. The case when one character is opposite all others is a bit harder, and in this case the numbers in text are often important. The most seldom technique is so-called “dualism” when the characters are compositionally united by their similarities.
Through the comparison of the characters a researcher comes to understanding of the issues and problems that these characters embody. For example, in the beginning of a novel “Anna Karenina”, Leo Tolstoy formulates a thematic principle: “All happy families look alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Based on this principle, the characters are united in the groups compositionally – different families in the novel develop this statement in their own way.
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It is especially interesting to consider compositional relationships of the characters when they are not revealed in the plot. In this case, the characters establish between themselves seemingly hidden but very significant compositional relationships. Besides, we start understanding the harmonious unity of the composition of the text.
First, it seems that the characters are from the different plot lines of the novel. However, this is the point – seemingly different, not connected between them plot lines are tightly bound compositionally, in particular, in the sphere of the system of characters. Based on this point of view, all the characters of the novel are divided into two groups: the first ones live their natural life and embody the values of love and spiritual self-improvement that Tolstoy used to cherish so much, and the life of the second ones is unnatural, subject to false goals, lacks moral values and embodies the idea of separation between people that Tolstoy used to hate.
This is just a good example that should help understand how to write this particular type of an essay better. Of course, any text, characters, phenomena and so on can be used as the basis for comparison.
Preparation stage has a particular importance
The stage of preparation gets a particular importance when it goes about creation of an essay. Gathered material is convenient to present in the form of a table, based on which the text of an essay will be written.
The senior students are often assigned to create an essay that requires the ability to make a comparative presentation of two literary characters. Even the students of the first years of studying can start writing this type of essay based on simpler literature texts, like fairy tales, children’s poems and so on.
The first thing that should be discussed with the junior students is to ask and later explain why it is necessary to compare the characters of a book. What is the goal of comparing? The purpose of a reader is to realize why the author of a text compares the characters, i.e. to try to reveal author’s idea.
When comparing the characters, we try to look at the world “through the author’s eyes” and try to understand the peculiarities of author’s vision. In such a way, we enrich our own worldview as well. So, our goal is to reveal and evaluate a character, his / her actions, thoughts and feelings.
Also, the students should realize that they can speak about a character if they find his / her portrait (i.e. description of appearance) in the text, if they pick from the text the fragments where the author speaks about the character, if they analyze his / her actions and thoughts, and then, they can draw conclusions about the author’s attitude to the characters. Everything mentioned can be briefly presented in the following way:
We want to repeat it again: the logic operation of comparison includes the search for something general and the search for differences. It is necessary to study hard first, to gather and analyze material, and only after that we can start writing the text of an essay.
We also want to mention that a compare and contrast essay is often assigned to the students at the entrance exams at different educational institutions. That is why school students are also often assigned to do the same essay type, especially as a part of a final exam. The students learn to know the world better (including the world of a literature work). As Confucius said: “We learn everything when comparing it”.
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