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1. a person represented in a play, film, story, etc.; role
2. Computing any letter, numeral, etc., which is a unit of information and can be represented uniquely by a binary pattern
3. Genetics any structure, function, attribute, etc., in an organism, which may or may not be determined by a gene or group of genes
4. a short prose sketch of a distinctive type of person, usually representing a vice or virtue



in literature, a personage depicted with relative completeness and individuality. A literary character engages in actions, thoughts, experiences, and speech that are conditioned by a given social and historical milieu and that reveal the author’s moral and aesthetic concept of human life. A fictional character unites universal human traits with traits that are individualized and unique. He unites the objective social and psychological reality of human life, which provides the foundation for literary characterization, with the author’s subjective interpretation and evaluation. As a result of this unity the literary character appears as a new reality and a created personality which, while it represents an actual individual, also clarifies that individual ideologically. It is precisely the conceptual nature of the literary character that distinguishes the view of this character expressed in literary criticism from the meanings of the term “character” in psychology, philosophy, and sociology.

The reader’s concept of a literary protagonist is created through the protagonist’s outer and inner gestures (including speech), physical appearance, authorial and other traits, and the place and role of the protagonist in the plot development. A fictional situation is comprised of the interrelationship between the character and his milieu, which is an artistic depiction of the character’s social, historical, intellectual, cultural, and natural surroundings. The conflicts between man and society, man and nature, and man and his earthly fate, as well as man’s inner conflicts, are all reflected in fictional conflicts.

The depiction of a character in its diversity and dynamism is a trait of fiction and of most dramas and motion pictures with complex plots. A concern with character depiction marked the separation of literature as an art form from syncretic, preliterary religious and publicist literature of the biblical or medieval type. The concept of character originated in ancient Greece, where literature first became an independent branch of human creativity.

However, the ancient Greeks’ concept of character as an aspect of literature differed from the modern concept. Since the plot was foremost in the presentation of ideological content, the characters were distinguished primarily not by their personality but by the role they played in the plot. In later epochs there was a different interrelationship between the characters and the plot: it was not the events as such but “the personalities of the characters who bring the events to life that make the poet select one event over another. Only the characters are sacred to him” (G. E. Lessing, Hamburgische Dramaturgic Moscow-Leningrad, 1936, p. 92). The concept of the independent ideological and artistic significance of the character existed in classical literature. For example, in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives the protagonists are compared with one another both in terms of their fate and of their character. A similar dual concept of the literary character dominated until the 18th century and was expressed by Diderot as the relationship between a character’s innate disposition and his social position.

In the development of the concept of the character, the literatures of two epochs were of particular importance: those of the Renaissance and of classicism. The literary characters of the Renaissance lacked a well-defined personality and were universal human types, although a protagonist could consciously and deliberately change his behavior. Moreover, the correlation between the universal traits in the protagonist’s character with his function in the plot—his fate—revealed to the protagonist his inadequacy in relation to his social and historical fate. This anticipated the realist concept of character in the 19th and 20th centuries: “Man is either more than his fate or less than his humanity” (M. M. Bakhtin, Voprosy literatury, 1970, no. 1, p. 119).

In Shakespeare’s works, many characters have a third dimension, as personages with an individual self-consciousness. Classicism returned to a rigid, static depiction of character but also focused on the self-consciousness of the individual, who had to choose between duty and passion. However, a character viewed against the background of duty and impersonal passion in classical literature had no value in itself but was only a means of correlating two universal, parallel lines.

At all these stages of intellectual and literary development, character was viewed as a nonhistorical and universal basis of human nature; in K. Marx’ words, as “an abstraction inherent in each single individual” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 3). Romanticism asserted that the individual was autonomous and an end in himself; this elevated the individual above his innate psychological nature as well as his social status. During the romantic period a new concept of the literary character developed: the character was identified with his own inner world. Later, 19th-century critical realism created an innovative concept of the individual character as a historically unique link between the personality and its environment. The romantic tradition was continued in the late 19th century and the 20th century by the symbolists and existentialists.

A new concept of the fictional character was advanced by Hegel, who asserted that the character is “an integrated human individuality” that reveals “universal, substantial active forces” of various types. The character is “the true focus” of depiction since it unites universality and individuality “as elements of its totality.” The character should be revealed in all the manifold aspects of its individual traits and not be “the plaything of only one passion,” for in that case the character “appears as though existing outside itself.” A character should be “an entire independent world, a complete, living person, not an allegorical abstraction of a single character trait” (Estetika, vol. 1, Moscow, 1968, pp. 244–46). Hegel’s theory, which drew on a number of earlier works of literature, in many ways anticipated later realistic literature, in which characters undergo a process of inner development. This development is continuous, is never completed, and cannot be completed since it is determined by a constant interaction with historical circumstances.

Post-Hegelian literary theory was based on realistic art and firmly emphasized the importance of that which was individualized and specific in a literary character. Post-Hegelian literary theory advanced and solved the problem of the conceptual nature of literary characters and established the necessity of an authorial ideological viewpoint in the depiction of character. In the realistic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries the characters embody the authors’ varied and sometimes contradictory concepts of human personality. For example, in Balzac’s works the fundamental principle of individuality is universal human nature perceived in an anthropological sense. A person’s individuality is in a process of continuous development, since the influence of the external environment on this fundamental principle is also continuous and without end. It is the individual person who determines the extent of these influences.

In the works of Dostoevsky, the determinism of circumstances gives rise to individual self-determination; the character of the protagonist is an inexhaustible source of individual potentialities. A different concept of the incompleteness of literary characters is found in the works of L. N. Tolstoy: in Tolstoy’s words, the author could “clearly express the changeable nature of man, the fact that the same person can be an evildoer or an angel, a wise man or an idiot, a strong man or a helpless creature” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 53, 1953, p. 187). To Tolstoy, the author must seek to reveal in the individual, who is alienated from others by society’s conventions, that which is universally human and innate—the “complete man.”

The authors of the new novel (nouveau roman) rejected fictional individuality in favor of impersonality, as embodied in characters who had lost their personal identity owing to alienation and conformism. In the depiction of this impersonality, the character as such functioned in a subordinate role, as a mere support.

Literary works that follow the method of socialist realism have inherited concepts of the character from a number of earlier literary trends, particularly 19th-century realism. Such works affirm the modern view of the factors determining a character’s individuality: social, historical, and political reality in their revolutionary development. As a result, the sociopsychological individuality of characters in the works of socialist realism crystallizes into a concretely historical individuality. In the literature of the 1960’s and 1970’s, stress has been placed on the individual’s moral striving, his responsibility for his own inner world, and his responsibility toward others.


Hegel. Estetika, vol. 1. Moscow, 1968. Pages 244–53.
Sotsialisticheskii realizm i klassicheskoe nasledie (Problema kharaktera): Sb. st. Moscow, 1960.
Problema kharaktera v sovremennoi sovetskoi literature. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.
Bocharov, S. G. “Kharaktery i obstoiatel’stva.” In Teoriia literatury, [book 1]. Moscow, 1962.
Bakhtin, M. M. Problemy poetiki Dostoevskogo, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1972. Pages 78–129.
Bakhtin, M. M. “Epos i roman.” In Voprosy literatury i estetiki. Moscow, 1975.
Likhachev, D. S. Chelovek v literature drevnei Rusi, [2nd ed.]. Moscow, 1970.
Ginzburg, L. O psikhologicheskoi proze. [Leningrad] 1971.
Ginzburg, L. O literaturnom geroe. Leningrad, 1979.
Averintsev, S. S. Plutarkh i antichnaia biografiia. Moscow, 1973.




in mathematics, a function of special form used in number theory and group theory.

In number theory, a function χ(n) ≢ 0 defined for all integers n is called a character if χ(nm) = χ(n)χ(m) for all n and m and if there exists an integer k, called the period, such that χ(n + k) = χ(n) for all n. The least positive period is called the fundamental modulus of χ, and a character with fundamental modulus k is denoted by χ(n, k).

An example of a character is the principal character modulo k, which is defined as follows: χ(n, k) = 0 if (n, k) > 1, and χ(n, k) = 1 if (n, k) = 1. Another example is χ(n, k) = 0 if (n, k) > 1 and χ(n, k) = (n/k) if (n, k) = 1; here, (n/k) is the Jacobi symbol, and k > 1 is an odd positive integer. A character of degree q modulo k is a character that takes on the value 1 for all numbers a for which the congruence xqa (mod k) is solvable (seePOWER RESIDUE). Such characters play an important role in the theory of algebraic numbers. Many questions of number theory—for example, the distribution of primes—involve the functions

which are called the Dirichlet L-functions. A special case of such functions is the zeta function ζ(s), for which χ(n) ≡ 1

Because of the periodicity property χ(n + k) = χ(n), characters x(n, k), for fixed k > 1, can be treated as functions defined on a reduced residue system modulo k (which is regarded as a group under multiplication) and satisfying the functional equation

(1) χ(ab) = χ(a)χ(b)

This view of the concept of a character allows us to apply it to any finite commutative group G. Suppose G is of order n, e is the identity element of G, and a is an arbitrary element of G. It then follows that [χ(a)]n = χ(an) = χ(e) = 1. In other words, χ(a) an nth root of unity. In particular,

(2) |χ(a)| ≡ 1

A character of any (not necessarily finite) commutative group G is a function χ(a) defined on G and satisfying (1) and (2). If G is a topological group, then it is required, in addition, that χ(a) be continuous.

The set of characters of a group G forms a group G1 under ordinary multiplication of characters as functions. If G is finite, then G1 is isomorphic to G. In general, the isomorphism does not hold for infinite groups G. For example, if G is the group of integers, then its characters are χ(n) = einϕ, where ϕ is any real number reduced to modulo 2π. Thus, in this case, the group of characters is the same as the group of rotations of a circle. In turn, the group of characters for the group of rotations of a circle is the same as the group of integers [each such character is of the form χ(ϕ) = einϕ]. L. S. Pontriagin extended this duality to a large class of groups; in topology he applied the duality to the solution of duality problems for compact spaces.


Pontriagin, L. C. Nepreryvnye gruppy, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1973.
Chudakov, N. G. Vvedenie v teoriiu L-funktsii Dirikhle. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Lang, S. Algebra. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from English.)
Borevich, Z. I., and I. R. Shafarevich. Teoriia chisel, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1972.



in psychology, the individual’s inner makeup as a well-established structural whole; a person’s “temper,” or disposition, as manifested in the individual’s actions, psychic states, mannerisms, habits, and mode of thought, as well as in the peculiarly human sphere of the emotions. Character is the basis of individual behavior. The study of character is called characterology.


(computer science)
An elementary mark used to represent data, usually in the form of a graphic spatial arrangement of connected or adjacent strokes, such as a letter or a digit.
A small collection of adjacent bits used to represent a piece of data, addressed and handled as a unit, often corresponding to a digit or letter.
A distinctive aspect of a seismic event, for example, the waveform.
The sum of a person's relatively fixed personality traits and habitual modes of response.


An atom in a character repertoire.

Compare with glyph.


A single alphabetic letter, numeric digit, or special symbol such as a decimal point or comma. A character is equivalent to a byte; for example, 50,000 characters take up 50,000 bytes. The word "character" itself takes up nine bytes. See character based.
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