Flat Character

Definition of Flat Character

A flat character is a type of character in fiction that does not change too much from the start of the narrative to its end. Flat characters are often said not to have any emotional depths.

E. M. Foster has discussed some features of flat characters in his book “Aspects of the Novel.” According to him, a flat character is a simple character, shown by the authors having just one or two qualities, which almost remain the same throughout the story and do not undergo significant growth or changes. Besides, audience also does not know much about such characters, because writers do not provide detailed information about them.

Characteristics of Flat Characters

  • The role of flat characters is to support the main character.
  • They do not go through a substantial growth or transformation in the course of the narrative.
  • They have recognizable characteristics that make them appear stereotypical.
  • They are often referred to as one or two-dimensional characters, usually having one perspective or point of view about life, things or events.

Examples of Flat Characters from Literature

Example #1

Gertrude from Hamlet

Outwardly, Queen Gertrude seems to be a caring mother of Hamlet, but inwardly she is a weak-willed lady, who walks blindly through her life, is not aware that Claudius has trapped her by murdering her husband, and that he has seized her husband’s throne. She has no idea why Hamlet is upset about her marriage. She behaves like a tool of fate in the whole tragedy even when she stops Hamlet from going back to Wittenberg for studies. She is a weak character whom Claudius and Polonius have used for their own interests. She arranges a meeting with Hamlet so that Claudius could spy on him and also lets Polonius remain behind the curtains and hear the conversation between them. Thus, throughout the narrative, she proves her flat character and does not transform. She remains passive, never acts on her own until she becomes a victim herself.

Example #2

Miss Maudie from To Kill a Mockingbird

Miss Maudie is a flat character, because she maintains the same characteristics and outlook throughout the narrative. She begins and ends the novel by acting as a voice of reason for kids, and supporting and explaining Atticus’ motivations and actions. She is the one who does not openly give a warning to Atticus for taking the case of Tom Robinson. Her positive and optimistic attitude remains steady, even after losing her house burnt in fire. Also, she represents more open-minded woman in the novel, as she sees error in social structure of Maycomb.

Example #3

Elizabeth Proctor from The Crucible

Another example of flat character is, Elizabeth Proctor is a self-righteous woman, who always believes in doing something right. Whatever happens in the story, she stays faithful to her husband, John Proctor. Though she feels dejected due to John’s cheating, she does not turn against him despite his wrongdoing. She is basically an honest person, because when John asks for her suggestion, whether he should confess his sin or not, she leaves it on him. She does not judge her husband and assures him that she would support him for any decision he takes. Thus, she does not transform throughout this play, proving her as a flat character from beginning to the end.

Example #4

Benvolio from Romeo and Juliet

Benvolio is another flat character, who remains unchanged throughout the play. He is temperate, solid and loyal, who always tries to maintain peace and harmony between the two families and whose purpose is to support Romeo to get married to Juliet. However, the irony is that others accuse him for his hot temperament and wild attitude.

Function of Flat Character

The role of a flat character is to help the main character in pursuing his ambitions and goals. The flat characters often play a supporting role in the story, play or novel. Though they are not very prominent characters, they are not unimportant too, because they bring harmony, peace and comedy in the story. Writers use these characters to create a specific atmosphere in the complex narrative structure.

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