An Analyze of Characterization in Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

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    Jan 20, 2013
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Understanding various ways of narrative in novels an author creates characterization. That is the author`s intention to present and develop the traits of characters. This essay will discuss characterization in the novel “Notes on a Scandal” by Zoe Heller.

The two main characters of the novel “Notes on a Scandal” by Zoe Heller are Barbara Covert and Bath Sheba. Barbara and Sheba are round characters. They are complex and realistic and they represent a depth of personality. They have been fully developed by the author; physically, mentally and emotionally. They are detailed enough to seem real. “To make sure that I maintain maximum accuracy in this narrative, I have started putting together a timeline of Sheba`s year“ (Heller 24). This reveals the characters, Barbara`s personality as first person narrator.But they change during the course of the story. Changes consider to quality a character as dynamic include changes in understanding and changes in values.

Barbara is not married and does not have any kids and when she develops a stable relationship with Sheba she cannot bear to be alone again.“How will Sheba ever manage on her own? Who will do the shopping and cook her meals? Who will make sure that she showers every day? I`m not sure I can bear it if I have to go back to being on my own again“ (Heller, 2003:240). Sheba had idealistic ideas of inspiring her students with her art lessons. But she was dissapointed. At first she was determined not to have love affair with Conolly but she finally gave up. Her obssesion with Conolly grew gradually. “In the clasroom or on the heath with Conolly she could believe that theirs was a beautiful, forbidden love-something sweet and healthy and, if only the circumstances were tweaked, infinitely valuable“ (Heller, 2003:118). She was thinking only about him and neglecting her family.

Sheba is the character who has epiphany. When she, Barbara and Barbara`s sister Marjorie goes to church, after the service she starts talking about love as she feels she is in some kind of a trance.“ I mean, what is romance, but a mutual pact of delusion? When the pact ends, there`s nothing left. That`s the thing about people who believe in God isn`t it? The love for him ever ends“ (Heller, 2003:170). Sheba experiences a moment of self realization, or discovery. She realizes that she is deluded but this moment has not provided a solution for her. Sheba`s epiphany, her truth results in more complexity as her affair gets revealed.

The author reveals the traits of the characters indirectly. Barbara, the protagonist, is making notes on a scandal about her friend Sheba`s affair with sixteen years old Steven Conolly. As Barbara narrates the story of Sheba`s affair in her journal, she is inadverantly and indirectly revealing her own personality. She says “This is not a story about me“ (Heller, 2003:4). But it is as she continues saying “But since the task of telling it has fallen into my hands, and since I  play a minor role in the events I am going to describe, it is only right that I should offer a brief account of myself and my relationship to the protagonist“ (Heller, 2003:4). In short the author`s intention of characterization is to present everyday life circumstances of the human conditions through the main characters. Heller is to reverse reader`s loyalties, so that through the narrator people around the main chracter and readers find her somewhat disturbing. Barbara narrates the scandal of Sheba while she indirectly reveals her emotions as an obsessed, jealous and deluded person. Her relationship with Sheba becomes hatred which leads to betrayal and indignation.


Heller, Zoe. (2003). Notes on a Scandal. London: Penguin Books.

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