Narrative Perspective

Introduction

Every literary text has a narrator who guides us through the story. The narrator is the voice that recounts events and has the ability to take on different points of view. Depending on how much the narrator knows about the protagonists and the story, or from which point of view the story is told, we can choose between three different types of narration in English.

First-person narration

Narrator speaks in the first person

A first-person narrator is directly involved in the story and tells it from his or her point of view, frequently making use of the pronouns I, me, my and mine. This style of narration is limited because the narrator can only tell the reader what he/she experiences (subjective point of view). The advantage of the first person point of view is that the narrator shares their personal experiences and secrets with the reader who then feels more connected to the story.

Example:
I still couldn’t believe it. Lisa really was pregnant and hadn’t told me anything about it. I didn’t know how the band could go on. After all, nobody becomes a famous rock star with a baby on the stage.

Literary example: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Third-person narration

The story is told through the perspective of the third person (he/she/they etc.). There are three types of third person narration in English:

  • limited point of view
  • neutral point of view
  • omniscient point of view

Third-person limited

Narrator speaks in the third person – subjective point of view

The narrator is not directly involved in the story which is told from the point of view of a character. The reader only has insight into the feelings and thoughts of the protagonist which is why this type of narration is refered to as limited. Information about other characters is only shared with the reader when it is shared with the protagonist. This type of narration can also change perspectives and tell the story from the point of view of another character. In this case we refer to third person multiple point of view narration.

Example:
He had already called her a thousand times but she just didn’t answer. Where was she? He was really worried and could not understand her disappearance. So he decided to look for her.

Literary example: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

Third person neutral

Narrator speaks in the third person – objective point of view

This style of narration doesn’t provide insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Instead, the story is told from an objective or neutral point of view. Only facts which are discernable from the outside are reported and comments and insights into characters and events are left out. Dialogues are often reported without an explanation of what the characters are thinking and feeling. The reader must discern the information from the events described.

Example:
He entered the room and slammed the door behind him. “Stop telling me what to do all the time!” Laura left the room without answering.

Literary example: Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway.

Third person omniscient

Narrator speaks in the third person – all-knowing point of view

The narrator knows everything about the fictive world they are narrating – hence the name omniscent or all-knowing point of view. This type of narration offers insight into the thoughts, feelings, opinions and relationships between the characters. In other words, the all-knowing narrator knows everything about what connects the characters, as well as their past, present and future. The all-knowing narrator can move between space and time within an event. Thus, allowing the reader to learn more about the event and characters in the story.

Example:
He was walking down the street thinking about his dog Poppy. It broke his heart to see her so sick and he hoped that she would get better soon. He didn’t yet know that Poppy was already better, running happily around the garden.

Literary example: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley or Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling