Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Point of View

Largely a function of narration, point of view describes the perspective from which a piece of fiction is told. Remember that a single work of fiction can have many narrators and many points of view.

First Person, Second Person, Third Person

Nearly all the time, authors of fiction choose either first-person narration or third-person narration. A first-person narrator speaks as "I." Narration in the third person describes action from a more detached perspective. In third-person narration, characters will appear by their names or the third-person pronouns (he, she, and they). In some rare cases, writers will create a startling effect by choosing second-person narration, which directs the story at "you," the reader. Contemporary writer Lorrie Moore's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" uses second-person narration to comic effect.

Subjectivity, Objectivity, Omniscience

A point of view can be objective or subjective, limited or omniscient (all-knowing). Subjective narrators generally speak in the first person and are necessarily limited because they offer one of many possible perspectives on the action they describe. They often participate directly in that action. (Unreliable narrators are subjective, though subjective narrators are not necessarily unreliable.) Objective narrators, on the other hand, act as observers rather than opinionated participants. An omniscient narrator has access to all the actions and thoughts of a piece of fiction, whereas a limited narrator will "know" only some of them. For instance, a limited third-person narrator might portray two characters in conversation, giving us one character's words and actions alone, while getting "into the head" of the other character to relate thoughts as well as words and actions.

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