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Point of View
structure)Point of View Home


Point of view is a bit like perspective, because what you see depends on where you look from. Change the angle and everything seems to change.

Great link :

Narrative Point of View

Point 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).

Print 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,

Point of View and Reader Positioning:

Narrators 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.

First Person Point of View

In 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.

Omniscient 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:

Third person Objective
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.

Limited Omniscient Narrator:
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.

Omniscient Narrator:
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 complex.

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 the reader.
Learning Assistance News

The following is courtesy of Simon Hunn from Christchurch Grammar School

"When 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?

Answers 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.]

These explanations 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 words?

The procedure 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, her, or them.

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:

First person narrative point of view:

Third person narrative point of view:

Is the narrator a participant in the action?

Third person omniscient narrative point of view:

Selective omniscient third person narrative point of view:

Limited third person narrative point of view

Is the narrator just an observer or a reporter of the action?

Is the narrator relating only external events, actions and dialogue with God-like power?

Is the narrator apparently equipped limitless knowledge, but chooses to use it selectively?

Is the narrator's knowledge limited to those of normal human observers?

How reliable is the narrator?


Does the author reveal the thoughts and feelings of only two or three characters, not all of the characters?

Does the narrator only speculate about the thoughts and feelings of the characters?

Do we respect the narrator's judgements, or do we find evidence of bias, prejudice, contradiction, confusion, inconsistency or ignorance?




To illustrate 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.]

Here 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.

A second 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.

British 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."

Keeping 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?

In 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.

Writers also have several choices to make in the ways they present speech and thoughts.

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 years.

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 vehicle.

When 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 Ulysses:

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!

For you, 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.

Types 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 entries
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 unreliable.
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 vantage point.
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.


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