Point of view (literature)

From Academic Kids

In literature, a point of view is the related experience of the narrator - not that of the author. Authors expressly cannot, in fiction, insert or inject their own voice, as this challenges the suspension of disbelief. Texts encourage the reader to identify with the narrator, not with the author.

Literary narration can occur from the first-person, second-person or third-person point of view. In a novel, first-person commonly appears: I saw ... We did.... In self-help or business writing, the second person (addressing "you") predominates: you must..., thou shalt.... In an encyclopedia or textbook narrators often work in the third-person: that happened..., the king died.... For additional vagueness, imprecision and detachment, some writers employ the passive voice: it is said that the president was compelled to be heard....

The ability to use viewpoint effectively provides one measure of someone's writing ability. The writing markschemes used for National Curriculum assessments in England reflect this: they encourage the awarding of marks for the use of viewpoint as part of a wider judgement regarding the composition and effect of the text.

Point of View in the Novel

Most novels are narrated either in the first person, in third person omniscient, or in third person limited. A third person omniscient narrator can shift focus from character to character with knowledge of everyone's thoughts and of events of which no single character would be aware. The third person limited point of view picks one character and follows him or her around for the duration of the book. The narrator may be more observant than the character, but is limited to what that one character could theoretically observe. In a minor variant on third person limited, narrator may "travel" with a single character, but the point-of-view conventions may be extended to allow the narrator access to other characters' thoughts and motivations. Another common variant is for a novel to have different third person limited point of views in different sections. Thus, Chapter One might follow Jane, while Chapter two follows Dick, and Chapter Three follows their dog.

First person narration is used somewhat less frequently. The first-person point of view sacrifrices omniscience and omniprescence for a greater intimacy with one character. It allows the reader to see what the focus character is thinking; it also allows that character to be further developed through his or her own style in telling the story.

A small number of novels have been written in the second person, frequently paired with the present tense. A relatively prominent example is Jay McInerney's Bright Lights Big City, where the central character is clearly modeled on himself, and he seems to have decided that second-person point of view would create even more intimacy than first-person, creating the feeling that the reader is blind, in a sense, and the plot is leading him or her along. It is almost universally agreed that second-person narration is that hard to manage, especially in a serious work. Another example of second-person narrative is the Choose Your Own Adventure children's books, in which the reader actually makes decisions and jumps around the book accordingly.

While the general rule is for novels to adopt a single approach to point of view throughout, there are exceptions. Epistolary novels, very common in the early years of the novel, generally consist of a series of letters written by different characters (although they may all be letters from one character; a recent example is Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary). Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island switches between third and first person. Many of William Faulkner's novels take a series of first-person points of view.

Another issue related to point of view is whether the narrator is to be seen as reliable. Traditionally, the narration of a novel, especially a that of a third-person narrator, was to be taken at face value. Gradually, novels arose with less reliable narrators. For example, Huck in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn does not outright lie to the reader, but he might admit something only sheepishly, or betray facts whose significance he clearly does not understand. An unreliable narrator is a (usually) first-person narrator, the credibility of whose point of view is seriously compromised, possibly by psychological instability or powerful bias, possibly merely through naďveté.

Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow remains in third-person throughout, but at various times, it is third-person limited inside the mind of a particular character, and not always a sane one. For example, in one chapter, we have an extremely unreliable third-person narrator describing an entire ship that is somehow the "toilet" of the German Navy; the effective point of view is that of minor character Horst Achtfaden, locked in the toilet of a ship and going crazy.

See also

Third person limited omniscientde:Erzählperspektive


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