Point of View
We’ll start with first-person.
Authors who write in the first person use the personal pronouns I or we. The use of the personal pronoun helps connect the author with the reader. It’s as if the author were relaying a personal anecdote just to you. As a result, the reader feels a closeness and an emotional connection.
Let’s take a look at some of the more famous first-person passages.
“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”
That’s the opening line of the Harper Lee classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. The book’s adult narrator, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, recalls her time as a child growing up in a small Alabama town during the Great Depression and how her father defended a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. Her narration begins with vivid imagery, and the reader quickly empathizes with these two young children. That line helps make the connection authors seek when writing in the first person.
Here’s one more.
“After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers….she let out that Moses has been dead a long time; so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.”
That’s Huck Finn speaking in the Mark Twain classic. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tells the 19th-century adventures of a boy, Huck Finn, who travels the Mississippi River with a runaway slave. His sort of first-person narration contains a unique dialect meant to mirror the way people spoke in those days. But it serves the same purpose. Using the dialect gives the readers a closer connection to Huck Finn and his friend, Jim.
So that’s first-person dialogue. There’s another type of point of view that isn’t widely used, but it’s worth exploring. Let’s take a look at second-person.
There’s a grocery store across the street that you can go to.
When authors use the second-person pronoun you, they’re writing from the second-person point of view. You is very informal, so researchers tend not to use the second person in academic writing. But this informal writing can be very helpful in a number of other genres. Let’s look at a few.
Cookbooks make great use of the second-person point of view. Recipes tend to be very informal, with phrases like, “Once you have mixed in the eggs, you’ll need to mix in the flour.”
Instruction manuals make liberal use of the second person: “After you drill the hole into the stud, you can use the anchor to secure the television wall mount.”
Self-help books also use the second person. “You can take control of your life by following these steps,” or “you should breathe deeply during this exercise” are phrases you might see.
You’ll also see the second person in advertising and quotes. Former president John F. Kennedy spoke in the second person during what is arguably one of the most famous lines in American history: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Remember the advertising slogan, “Have it your way”? That’s the second-person style.
Let’s look at the third-person.
He. She. They. It. Those are examples of third-person pronouns. Their, themselves, himself, and itself are also included.
The third-person narrative comes from the point of view of the subject. “He always hated shopping for clothes” is an example of the third person. The third person has three different types. The first we’re going to look at is third-person limited.
In this style, the narrator knows what one character thinks and feels. There are a number of reasons to use third-person limited writing in literature. Mystery novels use a single character to unravel clues and they do so without knowing what other characters think. Authors use the third person to show how events develop through the eyes of one character. Authors also use the third person to show how the narrative can change, or the character’s initial point of view was flat out wrong.
Here’s an example.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”
That’s the opening paragraph of George Orwell’s 1984, setting the scene through the eyes of one character, Winston Smith. Even in that one paragraph, you can see the third-person pronouns: “His chin” and “along with him.”
While third-person limited tells the tale through the eyes of one character, third-person multiple goes further.
The author switches the perspective and scene from one character to another, always narrating from a specific point of view. It’s a difficult art to master because authors must remember that one character doesn’t know what the other thinks or feels. The next point of view, third-person omniscient, is more widely used.
Omniscient means “knowing everything,” and in this case, the author knows what all the characters think and can show that to the reader. With this method, authors can compare the thoughts and feelings of the characters. This method can show tension between characters, provide a point of view of events, and can contrast actions so that the audience can form its own opinion.
In Little Women, author Louisa May Alcott uses a narrator who knows how all of the book’s characters think and act. In this passage, the omniscient narrator paints a scene with the four March daughters, Beth, Meg, Amy, and Jo.
At nine they stopped work, and sang, as usual, before they went to bed. No one but Beth could get much music out of the old piano, but she had a way of softly touching the yellow keys and making a pleasant accompaniment to the simple songs they sang. Meg had a voice like a flute, and she and her mother led the little choir. Amy chirped like a cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs at her own sweet will, always coming out at the wrong place with a croak or a quaver that spoiled the most pensive tune.
In this case, it’s clear the narrator knows everything about the characters.
So that’s our look at point of view, and the differences between first-person, second-person, and third-person.
I hope this overview was helpful!
See you guys next time!