In mathematics, more specifically in group theory, the character of a group representation is a function on the group that associates to each group element the trace of the corresponding matrix. The character carries the essential information about the representation in a more condensed form. Georg Frobenius initially developed representation theory of finite groups entirely based on the characters, and without any explicit matrix realization of representations themselves. This is possible because a complex representation of a finite group is determined (up to isomorphism) by its character. The situation with representations over a field of positive characteristic, so-called "modular representations", is more delicate, but Richard Brauer developed a powerful theory of characters in this case as well. Many deep theorems on the structure of finite groups use characters of modular representations.
Characters of irreducible representations encode many important properties of a group and can thus be used to study its structure. Character theory is an essential tool in the classification of finite simple groups. Close to half of the proof of the Feit–Thompson theorem involves intricate calculations with character values. Easier, but still essential, results that use character theory include Burnside's theorem (a purely group-theoretic proof of Burnside's theorem has since been found, but that proof came over half a century after Burnside's original proof), and a theorem of Richard Brauer and Michio Suzuki stating that a finite simple group cannot have a generalized quaternion group as its Sylow 2-subgroup.
A character χρ is called irreducible or simple if ρ is an irreducible representation. The degree of the character χ is the dimension of ρ; in characteristic zero this is equal to the value χ(1). A character of degree 1 is called linear. When G is finite and F has characteristic zero, the kernel of the character χρ is the normal subgroup:
which is precisely the kernel of the representation ρ. However, the character is not a group homomorphism in general.
Let ρ and σ be representations of G. Then the following identities hold:
where ρ ⊕ σ is the direct sum, ρ ⊗ σ is the tensor product, ρ∗ denotes the conjugate transpose of ρ, and Alt2 is the alternating product Alt2 ρ = ρ ∧ ρ and Sym2 is the symmetric square, which is determined by
The character table is always square, because the number of irreducible representations is equal to the number of conjugacy classes.
The space of complex-valued class functions of a finite group G has a natural inner product:
where β(g) is the complex conjugate of β(g). With respect to this inner product, the irreducible characters form an orthonormal basis for the space of class-functions, and this yields the orthogonality relation for the rows of the character table:
For g, h in G, applying the same inner product to the columns of the character table yields:
where the sum is over all of the irreducible characters χi of G and the symbol |CG(g)| denotes the order of the centralizer of g. Note that since g and h are conjugate iff they are in the same column of the character table, this implies that the columns of the character table are orthogonal.
Certain properties of the group G can be deduced from its character table:
The character table does not in general determine the group up to isomorphism: for example, the quaternion group Q and the dihedral group of 8 elements, D4, have the same character table. Brauer asked whether the character table, together with the knowledge of how the powers of elements of its conjugacy classes are distributed, determines a finite group up to isomorphism. In 1964, this was answered in the negative by E. C. Dade.
The characters discussed in this section are assumed to be complex-valued. Let H be a subgroup of the finite group G. Given a character χ of G, let χH denote its restriction to H. Let θ be a character of H. Ferdinand Georg Frobenius showed how to construct a character of G from θ, using what is now known as Frobenius reciprocity. Since the irreducible characters of G form an orthonormal basis for the space of complex-valued class functions of G, there is a unique class function θG of G with the property that
for each irreducible character χ of G (the leftmost inner product is for class functions of G and the rightmost inner product is for class functions of H). Since the restriction of a character of G to the subgroup H is again a character of H, this definition makes it clear that θG is a non-negative integer combination of irreducible characters of G, so is indeed a character of G. It is known as the character of G induced from θ. The defining formula of Frobenius reciprocity can be extended to general complex-valued class functions.
Given a matrix representation ρ of H, Frobenius later gave an explicit way to construct a matrix representation of G, known as the representation induced from ρ, and written analogously as ρG. This led to an alternative description of the induced character θG. This induced character vanishes on all elements of G which are not conjugate to any element of H. Since the induced character is a class function of G, it is only now necessary to describe its values on elements of H. If one writes G as a disjoint union of right cosets of H, say
Because θ is a class function of H, this value does not depend on the particular choice of coset representatives.
This alternative description of the induced character sometimes allows explicit computation from relatively little information about the embedding of H in G, and is often useful for calculation of particular character tables. When θ is the trivial character of H, the induced character obtained is known as the permutation character of G (on the cosets of H).
The general technique of character induction and later refinements found numerous applications in finite group theory and elsewhere in mathematics, in the hands of mathematicians such as Emil Artin, Richard Brauer, Walter Feit and Michio Suzuki, as well as Frobenius himself.
The Mackey decomposition was defined and explored by George Mackey in the context of Lie groups, but is a powerful tool in the character theory and representation theory of finite groups. Its basic form concerns the way a character (or module) induced from a subgroup H of a finite group G behaves on restriction back to a (possibly different) subgroup K of G, and makes use of the decomposition of G into (H, K)-double cosets.
is a disjoint union, and θ is a complex class function of H, then Mackey's formula states that
where θ t is the class function of t−1Ht defined by θ t(t−1ht) = θ(h) for all h in H. There is a similar formula for the restriction of an induced module to a subgroup, which holds for representations over any ring, and has applications in a wide variety of algebraic and topological contexts.
Mackey decomposition, in conjunction with Frobenius reciprocity, yields a well-known and useful formula for the inner product of two class functions θ and ψ induced from respective subgroups H and K, whose utility lies in the fact that it only depends on how conjugates of H and K intersect each other. The formula (with its derivation) is:
(where T is a full set of (H, K)-double coset representatives, as before). This formula is often used when θ and ψ are linear characters, in which case all the inner products appearing in the right hand sum are either 1 or 0, depending on whether or not the linear characters θ t and ψ have the same restriction to t−1Ht ∩ K. If θ and ψ are both trivial characters, then the inner product simplifies to |T |.
One may interpret the character of a representation as the "twisted" dimension of a vector space. Treating the character as a function of the elements of the group χ(g), its value at the identity is the dimension of the space, since χ(1) = Tr(ρ(1)) = Tr(IV) = dim(V). Accordingly, one can view the other values of the character as "twisted" dimensions.[clarification needed]
One can find analogs or generalizations of statements about dimensions to statements about characters or representations. A sophisticated example of this occurs in the theory of monstrous moonshine: the j-invariant is the graded dimension of an infinite-dimensional graded representation of the Monster group, and replacing the dimension with the character gives the McKay–Thompson series for each element of the Monster group.