The Narrator of a Story
When reading a story or even watching a show or movie, there is sometimes a character that retells the narrative through their own point of view. This character is known as the narrator. Today, we are going to look at the narrator’s role in a story, how to spot different types of narrators, and how the narrator makes an impact on the story.
Determining the Narrator
When reading a narrative, readers must first ask “who is the narrator?” This is important because who the narrator is can shape how we receive the information in the story. Is the narration taken from an intimate, close up first-person point of view where they use language like “I said” or “we looked” or is it from a third-person perspective where the narrator is detached from the story and uses words like “they saw”, “she thought”, or “he asked”.
Readers should also take note of the narrator’s different backgrounds. A narrator can be a child with the story being told from their point of view. Some stories take the perspective a step further by making sure the narrator uses language that matches their background—for example, if a narrator is a child they might use only simple language and have a whimsical or limited point of view of serious events happening in the story. A narrator that is an educated adult might use higher language and elaborate sentence structure.
Relating the Narrator to the Story
Once the reader has figured out who the narrator is, they should look to see who the narrator is in relation to the rest of the characters in the story. Is the narrator a character in the story that other characters interact with, or is the narrator an “all-knowing” (or, omniscient) voice retelling a story that they are observing? If the latter is true, we then must ask: “Is this narrator being objective when telling the story or are they sharing their opinions about what is going on?”
A narrator that is simply sharing their opinions, especially polarized ones about the story or the characters within, may not be the most reliable source of information about the events taking place. A great example of the unreliable narrator can be found in the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It has been debated whether or not this story is fiction or nonfiction because in the story, the first-person narrator who is supposed to be the main character, admits that he made up a few details about his experience being drafted into war. However, he only admits this after the reader has already read that arc of the story and he doesn’t explain what parts were true and what parts were embellished. For the rest of the story, the reader must question what was true and what was made up.
In some stories, there are multiple narrators. The story may shift from character A in one chapter and then shift to character B in another chapter. Realizing these distinctions is important when reading or watching a narrative arc to not only keep track of the sequence of events but also determine if some narrators play a greater role in the narrative than others.
All in all, the narrator of a story plays an important role in driving the story forward, but knowing who the narrator is and their opinions, if any, can influence how we interpret the narrative.
Thanks for watching, and happy studying!