Mrs. Havisham Isn't a Round Character?

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"A flat character, also called a two-dimensional character, is more a type than an individual, and stays essentially the same throughout the work...A round, or three-dimensional, character, in contrast, is multifaceted and subject to change and growth; he or she is also capable of inconsistencies, and in those ways similar to an actual human being,

        Some characters may surprise readers with their three-dimensionality as a work goes on."

-From Sharon Hamilton's Essential Literary Terms page 126

 

I have not really thought of flat and round characters in the past as falling in to these specific definitions.  For example, Hamilton  refers to Mrs. Havisham in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations as a flat character.  When I read this book, I did not see her as a minor character.  I was equally, if not more interested in her story than in Pip's.  She does appear, at least to me, to be more of a real human than the definition of a flat character allows, but Mrs. Havisham never does change her ways in the story.  The novel finishes with her as the same bitter old spinster.  Now, that I know the proper definitions of each type of character, and understand the differences, I'll be able to distinguish between the two in the future.   

 

3 Comments

Maddie Gillespie said:

If we didn't know better, we may have thought that we were taking a craft class with flat and 3-dimensional cutouts! I had much the same reaction as you when reading this passage in Hamilton. Much like yourself, I've encountered supporting characters that are by no means minor, and see them in the light of a real human being. However, after reading the above definitions, one can see that these characters never changed. No matter who the human being, they change minutely in some respect. Even the typical old hermit who wants everyone to stay off his grass and just plain away from him changes a little from day to day. Then again, I guess it would be easier to identify with a 3-dimensional character who changes throughout the story, learning from the events and attributing life's lessons to them.

reed said:

miss havisham isnt flat; she becomes nicer right before she dies, remember? she gives the pockets 900 lbs to help pip!

Stuart Land said:

I am a fiction writer, a scriptwriter, and run creative writing workshops. I believe Ms. Hamilton's definition is incorrect. Character arc has nothing to do with whether a character is flat or three-dimensional. One is independent of the other. A three-dimensional character is one who has many facets to their lives, beliefs, wants, needs, etc., and whether or not they change because of some force acting on the lives, be it internal or external, has no bearing on the complexity and richness of the character, inasmuch as we can understand him or her. Adding a character arc certainly enriches a character so much more, but not every character needs an arc, i.e. Frank, in the TV show Mash. One could hardly say his character was flat. As for Mrs. Havisham, it's been too many years since I read that terrific novel, but although I don't remember her as a flat character, by today's standards--or even Tolstoy's--we could learn much more about the reasons why she was jilted at the alter. Although, wanting all characters to have arcs is noble and interesting, it isn't what keeps a character from being flat.

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