October 14, 2010
Narrator and Point of View
Understanding Point of View in Literature
Literature provides a lens through which readers look at the world. Point of view is the way the author allows you to “see” and “hear” what’s going on. Skillful authors can fix their readers’ attention on exactly the detail, opinion, or emotion the author wants to emphasize by manipulating the point of view of the story.
Point of view comes in three varieties, which the English scholars have handily numbered for your convenience:
- First-person point of view is in use when a character narrates the story with I-me-my-mine in his or her speech. The advantage of this point of view is that you get to hear the thoughts of the narrator and see the world depicted in the story through his or her eyes. However, remember that no narrator, like no human being, has complete self-knowledge or, for that matter, complete knowledge of anything. Therefore, the reader’s role is to go beyond what the narrator says.
For example, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is told from the point of view of Scout, a young child. She doesn’t grasp the complex racial and socioeconomic relations of her town — but the reader does, because Scout gives information that the reader can interpret. Also, Scout’s innocence reminds the reader of a simple, “it’s-not-fair” attitude that contrasts with the rationalizations of other characters.
- Second-person point of view, in which the author uses you and your, is rare; authors seldom speak directly to the reader. When you encounter this point of view, pay attention. Why? The author has made a daring choice, probably with a specific purpose in mind. Most times, second-person point of view draws the reader into the story, almost making the reader a participant in the action.
Here’s an example: Jay McInerney’s best-selling Bright Lights, Big City was written in second person to make the experiences and tribulations of the unnamed main character more personal and intimate for the reader.
- Third-person point of view is that of an outsider looking at the action. The writer may choose third-person omniscient, in which the thoughts of every character are open to the reader, or third-person limited, in which the reader enters only one character’s mind, either throughout the entire work or in a specific section. Third-person limited differs from first-person because the author’s voice, not the character’s voice, is what you hear in the descriptive passages.
In Virginia Woolf’s wonderful novel Mrs. Dalloway, you’re in one character’s mind at a time. You know the title character’s thoughts about Peter, the great love of her youth, for example, and then a few pages later, you hear Peter’s thoughts about Mrs. Dalloway. Fascinating! When you’re reading a third-person selection, either limited or omniscient, you’re watching the story unfold as an outsider. Remember that most writers choose this point of view.
Read more: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/understanding-point-of-view-in-literature.html#ixzz12NXLT5l5
The Continuity of Parks
by Julio Cortázar
.pdf version (recommended)
HE HAD BEGUN TO READ THE NOVEL a few days before. He had put it aside because of some urgent business, opened it again on his way back to the estate by train; he allowed himself a slowly growing interest in the plot, in the drawing of characters. That afternoon, after writing a letter to his agent and discussing with the manager of his estate a matter of joint ownership, he returned to the book in the tranquility of his study which looked out upon the park with its oaks. Sprawled in his favorite armchair, with his back to the door, which would otherwise have bothered him as an irritating possibility for intrusions, he let his left hand caress once and again the green velvet upholstery and set to reading the final chapters. Without effort his memory retained the names and images of the protagonists; the illusion took hold of him almost at once. He tasted the almost perverse pleasure of disengaging himself line by line from all that surrounded him, and feeling at the same time that his head was relaxing comfortably against the green velvet of the armchair with its high back, that the cigarettes were still within reach of his hand, that beyond the great windows the afternoon air danced under the oak trees in the park. Word by word, immersed in the sordid dilemma of the hero and heroine, letting himself go toward where the images came together and took on color and movement, he was witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin. The woman arrived first, apprehensive; now the lover came in, his face cut by the backlash of a branch. Admirably she stanched the blood with her kisses, but he rebuffed her caresses, he had not come to repeat the ceremonies of a secret passion, protected by a world of dry leaves and furtive paths through the forest. The dagger warmed itself against his chest, and underneath pounded liberty, ready to spring. A lustful, yearning dialogue raced down the pages like a rivulet of snakes, and one felt it had all been decided from eternity. Even those caresses which writhed about the lover’s body, as though wishing to keep him there, to dissuade him from it, sketched abominably the figure of that other body it was necessary to destroy. Nothing had been forgotten: alibis, unforeseen hazards, possible mistakes. From this hour on, each instant had its use minutely assigned. The cold-blooded, double re-examination of the details was barely interrupted for a hand to caress a cheek. It was beginning to get dark.
Without looking at each other now, rigidly fixed upon the task which awaited them, they separated at the cabin door. She was to follow the trail that led north. On the path leading in the opposite direction, he turned for a moment to watch her running with her hair let loose. He ran in turn, crouching among the trees and hedges until he could distinguish in the yellowish fog of dusk the avenue of trees leading up to the house. The dogs were not supposed to bark, and they did not bark. The estate manager would not be there at this hour, and he was not. He went up the three porch steps and entered. Through the blood galloping in his ears came the woman’s words: first a blue parlor, then a gallery, then a carpeted stairway. At the top, two doors. No one in the first bedroom, no one in the second. The door of the salon, and then the knife in his hand, the light from the great windows, the high back of an armchair covered in green velvet, the head of the man in the chair reading a novel.
Translation: David Page
Original Spanish version: Continuidad de los parques
Copyright © 2006. Contact Groundskeeper.
Practice maintaining a consistent writing flow (in prep for NaNoWriMo) by writing a scene using a particular narrator voice and point of view. I.e., write a scene from a first person point of view. Keep the focus narrow (only reveal what the speaker can know.) Keep it relatively short.
Then write the same scene using another point of view or narrator. You can use another first person from the same scene. OR you can use a third person omniscient point of view. Or, if you are feeling risky, try a second person. Be flexible. You can even use third person narrow, where the narrator is not the main character, but who only knows/experiences what the main character knows/experiences.
Then, if there is time, we will switch papers, and someone ELSE will write the same scene using another point of view and/or narrator voice.