Saturday, November 20, 2021

Visualizing Protagonist Gender in Edward P. Jones’s Stories

Edward P. Jones: Comparing  Collections

Edward P. Jones is one of the most data rich short story writers that I’ve encountered in African American literature. I’ve found visualizations a useful way to catalogue the several references he makes in his stories.

Most people are aware that his stories are littered with references to neighborhoods, businesses, streets, public parks and other landmarks in Washington, D.C. In addition to the several place-references, Jones also includes more than 500 characters across his two short story collections, Lost in the City (1992) and All Aunt Hagar’s Children (2006).

My colleague Peace Ossom-Williamson and I collaborated on visualizations that make the abundant data points that comprise Jones’s short stories easier to comprehend. In 2019, we served as co-editors for Lost in the City: An Exploration of Edward P. Jones's Short Fiction, where we included many interactive graphics. Inspired by the website, Lit Charts, we thought about how we could create visualizations that facilitate a reader’s ability to navigate Jones’s stories and learn more about his collections from a bird’s eye view.

This chart offers an overview of the gender of a given story’s protagonist as well as the ratio of words spoken by male and female characters in each collection. At the top right hand of the chart, there is a bar chart that compares the total number of words and word types in each collection. Below, in red and blue, is a gender analysis of the characters. The red bars represent the number of words spoken by female characters. The blue bars represent the number of words spoken by male characters. At the bottom, the red and blue symbols represent the gender of the protagonist in each story. Hovering over each symbol will reveal the story title and protagonist name.

These side-by-side comparisons provide insight into the character dialogue in Jones’s stories and offer a comparison of each story’s protagonist in his two collections. For instance, viewers can easily discern that Jones uses far more female protagonists in his stories compared to male protagonists. In his first collection, women and men characters nearly have the same amount of speaking parts, but in the second collection, there is a shift. Not only is the collection longer, but male character overtake female characters in terms of speaking roles by a significant margin.

This visualization provides one possibility for how data might be used to understand the various moving parts of a short story collection or a group of several texts.

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