Welcome to the website of The Problem of Fictional Character, an undergraduate English class taught by Professor Jessica Hurley in Winter 2018. In this class, students from all across the College came together to tackle a deceptively simple question: what is fictional character? And what can we learn about a culture’s conception of personhood by analyzing how it imagines fictional subjects? We combined a theoretical study of fictional character with an analysis of how social technologies of selfhood, society, and environment influence literary form – our full reading list is below, but we focused on novels, films, and graphic memoirs that stage how factors such as race, gender, sexuality, and disability impact both subject formation and the representation of subject formation in the contemporary United States.

This site serves as both the archive of the class’s online discussions and the repository of the public humanities project that students produced as part of the course: the Aspects of Character Keyword Project, a.k.a. the Characterpedia. For their final written assignments students wrote keyword essays explaining a single aspect of fictional character, synthesizing different theorists and using readings of fictional texts to illuminate their chosen aspect. These essays contain explanations of narrative elements such as focalization and character-space, analyses of social forms such as race and sexuality, and interrogations of how psychological imaginaries of interiority and the unconscious have impacted how we read and write. Across the work of 21 different students, you will find creative writing, critical analysis, and close readings; you will find new theories of narrativity, original critiques of the personality industry, and exciting new readings of classic texts. Welcome to the Characterpedia. We hope that you enjoy it.

Class Reading List:

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49.
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye.
Ridley Scott, Blade Runner.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer.


Alexander Gelley, “Character and Person: On the Presentation of Self in the Novel.” Narrative Crossings: Theory and Pragmatics of Prose Fiction.
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk.
Robert Gibby and Michael Zickar, “A History of the Early Days of Personality Testing in American Industry: An Obsession with Adjustment.”
Tzvetan Todorov, “Reading as Construction.”
Walter Benjamin, “Fate and Character.”
Timothy Melley, Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America.
Alex Woloch, The One vs. The Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel.
Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics.
Sara Ahmed, “Willful Parts: Problem Characters or the Problem of Character.”
John Frow, Character and Person.
Lisa Zunshine, “Cognitive Alternatives to Interiority.”
Mieke Bal, Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative.