of view is a bit like perspective, because what you see depends
on where you look from. Change the angle and everything seems
Point of View
of view refers to: “where an author chooses to stand
in relation to his characters and action” or, to put
it another way, “the angle from which a writer allows
readers to view his characters and action” (from Sean
Monahan’s wonderful Literature With Style).
Fiction texts such as novels are presented to the reader
by the author’s choice of the point of view. There
are two main categories of points of view an author can
adopt - first person and third person. First person narration
can consist of major and minor characters' viewpoint. Within
the third person category, we can have third person objective,
limited omniscient or third person omniscient.
of View and Reader Positioning:
play a key role in reader positioning. When you think about
it, the only way the reader can get access to the world
of the storyis via the narrator. The narrator has the important
job of telling the reader how to interpret the world of
the story. The narrator acts as a filter or lens through
which the reader can see the story. The reader is positioned
in relation to the characters and the issues in the story
bythe way the narrator interprets the events. Different
narrators will interpret events differently. For example,
if a short story has a first person narrator, you will be
influenced by how that character sees the events. Suppose
this narrator finds another character to be a likeable person.
You will be also encouraged to find that character likeable
because the narrator positions you in that direction.
Person Point of View
the first person point of view, the author adopts a persona
- that is, the author gives the role of narrator to a character
in the story. This persona may be a non-participant in the
main action, a minor character or a major character. Put
simply, the story is told from the “I” perspective
(I walked into the room and saw…). It is important
to remember that narrators are fictional constructs. That
is, they are not real people. They do not exist and never
have existed. Writers, of course, do exist. They are real.
Narrators are not. You must be able to differentiate between
the writer and the narrator. They are two different things.
The writer is a real, living, breathing person who invents
(or constructs or creates) the narrator. The narrator can
be also called the persona.
Points of View
This narrative stance is outside the story - no created
character is telling us the story, rather we are presented
with the story. Think of this point of view as similar to
the way we see events in many feature films. In a film we
are presented with the story and the camera could be likened
to third person point of view. We are “told”
the story from somewhere outside thestory. These are two
types of third person point of view:
The story is narrated as though the characters
and action, as though it is viewed through a camera. The
author shows no more than can be seen / heard; only what
is seen and heard is revealed. This form of narration does
not necessarily follow one character. The reader finds out
only what the author chooses to reveal. As such, we can
be manipulated to think certain things simply because we
do not have access to all information. We are made to judge,
as it were, on the basis of intentionally limited knowledge.
This can be used by the author as a device for constructing
elements of character, as well as for creating suspense.
Here the author has limited the narrator’s omniscience
(“all-knowingness”). Here there is a similar
god-like view of the world to the omniscient narrator, but
readers only have access to the thoughts and feelings
of a limited number of characters (I like to say one character).
The limited omniscient narrative POV has a similar impact
to that of the first person point of view because the reader
tends to see the world of the novel from one angle of vision
or one centre of consciousness. A useful term to use when
discussing the effect of the first person narrative point
of view or the limited omniscient narrative point of view
is that the character whose thoughts we have access to acts
as the focaliser for the story.
Here we have a god-like view of the world; the narrator
is all-seeing and all-knowing. They have unlimited
access to the thoughts and feelings of many characters.
The effect of this can be that we empathise with many characters
and therefore see that the conflict within the text is extremely
The writer’s choice of narrative point of view has
a powerful impact on the way readers see the world of the
story—this technique is very powerful in positioning
Learning Assistance News
following is courtesy of Simon Hunn from Christchurch Grammar
we talk about narrative point of view, we are talking about the
way in which a story is told. [In general conversation point
of view usually means attitudes or opinions
or even prejudices, but in literary analysis it refers
to the way in which a story is told.] In its broadest sense, the concept
of point of view refers to where authors stand in relation
to their stories:
Do they stand apart from it, rather like God looking down?
Do they cast themselves into the events and become involved with them?
to these questions will depend upon just how authors decide to tell
their stories. Broadly, authors have two choices:
- They can tell the story in such way
that readers feel that the voice speaking to them is that of the author;
- They can allow one or more characters
to tell the story. [Since these characters don't exist, it is still
the author who is really speaking to us, but in this case authors are choosing to impersonate the character for the sake
of the story telling.]
are very simplified and generalised, but they give you a starting point.
You can become more specific and accurate by asking the question:
How do you go about assessing
where the author is standing, or which character(s) are being given
is fairly straightforward.
1. Determine which of the two
basic methods of narration is being used.
First person narration,
where the narrator refers to self as I or we.
Third person narration,
where the narrator does not use I or we, but instead talks about he, she, they, him,
2. Once you have determined
whether it is first person or third person narration [or sometimes a
mixture of the two with the narration shifting from first to third and
back again], ask yourself:
the vital differences between omniscient and limited narration, consider
the situation in a story where the heroine accidentally drops her car
keys while walking through the forest. If the narrator is given an omniscient point of view, that narrator
can tell us that the heroine has dropped her keys. [In a film, the camera
can show us the dropped keys even though the actress does not see them.]
But if the narration is limited to the heroine's point of view, the reader is also limited
to what she knows and sees, and we won't be told that the keys have
been dropped because the heroine herself does not know this. [In a film,
the camera would show us only what the strolling heroine would see„the
trees in the forest, etc.„and could not show us the falling keys because
the heroine did not see them fall.]
is an example of third person omniscient narrative point of view taken from Frederick Forsyth's
The Devil's Alternative. We can tell that it is an omniscient
narration because the narrator allows himself to know what all three
men are thinking and how they
are feeling: "with little joy".
"Linkage?" asked the President
suspiciously. "I know your thoughts on that, Stan. Last time
it didn't work; it made things worse. I will not have a repeat of
the Jackson Amendment."
All three men recalled the fate of
that piece of legislation with little joy. At the end of 1974 the
Americans had introduced the Jackson Amendment which specified that
unless the Soviets went easier on the question of Russian-Jewish emigration
to Israel, there would be no US trade credits for the purchase of
technology and industrial goods.
example from a much older text is this one from Joseph Conrad's Nostromo:
On the second evening an upright spiral
of smoke (it could only have been from their camp-fire) was seen for
the first time within memory of man standing up faintly upon the sky
above a razor-backed ridge on the stony head. The crew of a coasting
schooner, lying becalmed three miles off shore, stared at it with
amazement till dark,. A negro fisherman, living in a lonely hut in
a little bay nearby, had seen the start and was on the look-out for
some sign. He called to his wife just as the sun was about to set.
They had watched the strange portent with envy, incredulity, and awe.
The impious adventures gave no other
sign. The sailors, the Indian, and the stolen burro were never seen
again. As to the mozo, a Sulcao man Ć his wife paid for some masses,
and the poor four-footed beast, being without sin, had been probably
permitted to die; but the two gringos, spectral and alive, are believed
to be dwelling to this day amongst the rocks under the fatal spell
of their success.
novelist Anthony Burgess (author of A Clockwork Orange) claims
that the omniscient point of view is dishonest and should not be used
by a conscientious writer. He says:
"The problem for all fiction writers
is to decide who is telling the story. This may not seem, for the average
novel reader, much of a problem, and he may scoff at the agony I allege
I have been undergoing for the past year in deciding how to narrate
a new long novel which is, as regards characters, action, scenes, and
even conclusion, quite clear in my mind. If the story is to be told
by one of the characters in it, that limits this narrator to what that
character can see and understand, which may not be enough for a wide
and varied canvas. If the narrator becomes God, seeing and knowing all,
this means that he himself is only a character in the novel since he
cannot be identified with a real personage outside it. Omniscience signifies
unreliability. The man who says he knows all is bound to be lying, therefore
his story is a fraud. Novels are supposed to be about truth."
this in mind, ask yourself why a narrator chooses an omniscient point of view? If
authors choose to give their narrators an omniscient point of view,
how can they create verisimilitude when they can't tell us the infinite number of things
that they know as omniscient narrators?
Ask a similar
question when the author chooses a shifting narrative point of view.
What was wrong with the first one? What extra impact can they achieve
by shifting the narrative point of view?
this example of first person narrative point of view from V.S.
Naipaul's The Mystic Masseur, we can know only what the narrator„who
calls himself I„knows.
Later he was to be famous and honoured
throughout the South Caribbean; he was to be a hero of the people
and after that, a British representative at Lake Success. But when
I first met him he was still a struggling masseur, at a time when
masseurs were ten a penny in Trinidad.
This was just at the beginning of the
war, when I was still at school. I had been bullied into playing football,
and in my first game I had been kicked hard on the shin and laid up
for weeks afterwards.
also have several choices to make in the ways they present speech and
Direct speech (the actual words spoken):
"I've owned the damned vehicle for five years," he shouted.
Direct speech (a report of the actual
words spoken): He shouted out that he had owned the vehicle for five
Summary of paraphrase (a long interchange
of dialogue is briefly summarise with few if any of the actual words
spoken are reproduced): A dispute arose concerning ownership of the
thoughts of characters are being reported, the methods used are comparable with
those used to present speech. The thoughts of characters can also be
presented in three ways.
Direct interior monologue: the author
presents us with the thoughts of the character exactly as the character
is supposed to have thought them. Here is an example from James Joyce's
As he set foot on O'Connell bridge
a puffball of smoke plumed up from the parapet. Brewery barge with
export stout. England. Sea sours it, I heard. Be interesting some
day to see the brewery. Regular world in itself. Vats of porter, wonderful.
Narrated interior monologue:
the thoughts are rendered in third person and in the past tense, but
are polished or edited from the raw thoughts to make the
ideas clearer to the reader. The passage above rewritten in narrated
interior monologue would look like this:
As he set foot on O'Connell bridge
a puffball of smoke plumed up from the parapet. He was a brewery barge
with export stout and thought briefly of England. Was it true that
the long sea journey made the stout go sour? Someone had told him
that. It would be interesting to see the brewery some day: it would
be a regular world in itself, with vats of porter everywhere. Wonderful!
In this kind of writing, it is important
to realise that these are the character's thoughts, not the author's comments.
The author is merely reporting the character's thoughts. Of course,
since the author created the character's thoughts, they are, in a sense,
the thoughts of the author, but for the sake of analysis, we must accept
the reality of the character within the world of the text.
The best way to understand the two
kinds of interior monologue Ć direct or narrated Ć is to imagine that
the author puts a tape-recorder in the character's mind and records
the character's thoughts. In a direct interior monologue the author
then types up what is on the tape, making only minimal editorial changes.
Stream of consciousness:
a special form of direct interior monologue in which punctuation has
been omitted and incomplete sentences are left in to more closely imitate
the way we actually think. This second extract from Ulysses is
stream of consciousness.
Mulveys was the first when I was in
bed that morning and Mrs Rubio brought it in with the coffee she stood
there standing when I asked her to hand me and I pointing at them
I couldn't think of the word a hairpin to open it with ah horquilla
disobliging old thing and it staring her in the face with her switch
of false hair on her and vain about her appearance ugly as she was
near 80 or a 100 her face a mass of wrinkles
and this continues without punctuation
for more than forty pages!
as a student, it is important to remember that your aim
in discussing narrative point of view is to assess its effect, not merely to label the technique
being used. It is of little use to be able to say, accurately,
"This story is a third person omniscient narration
with lashings of narrated interior monologue" without
going on to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of
adopting those techniques for that particular story.
of Narrative Point of View--from Moffett and McElheny
1. Interior Monologue -- 1st person, train of thought or
stream of consciousness
2. Dramatic Monologue -- 1st person, narrator speaking to
someone else; reader "overhears"
3. Letter Narration -- 1st person, narrator writing a letter
4. Diary Narration -- 1st person, narrator writing diary
5. Subjective Narration-- 1st person, narrator seems unreliable,
tries to get us to share their side, or assume values or
views we don't share.
6. Detached Autobiography -- 1st person, narrator is reliable,
guides reader. Narrator is main character, often reflecting
on a past "self."
7. Memoir or Observer Narration -- 1st person, narrator
is observer rather than main participant; narrator can be
confident, eye-witness or "chorus" (provides offstage
or background information); Narrator can be reliable or
8. Anonymous or Omniscient Narration, Single Character Point
of View -- 3rd person narrator is generally reliable; narrator
is omniscient and ubiquitous in terms of knowing all about
ONE character in the story; story presented from one character's
9. Anonymous or Omniscient Narration, Dual Character Point
of View -- 3rd person, generally reliable narrator presents
inner life of two characters; knows all there is to know
about these two characters.
10. Anonymous or Omniscient Narration, Multiple Character
Point of View -- 3rd person narrator presents inner life,
thoughts, actions of several characters
11. Anonymous or Omniscient Narration, No Character Point
of View -- 3rd person narrator, generally reliable, stays
OUT of minds of characters; presents story in eyewitness
or "chorus" account; narrator is not a confident,
does not present characters' thoughts.