Point of View (from Purdue Writing Lab)
You already understand point of view, but for identification purposes, we’ll just list the definition here: Point of view refers to the perspective the author uses to tell the story. Though authors may switch and combine points of view, in traditional fiction there exists three points of view:
- Third Person: In third person, the author tells the story. But the author decides if the events will be objectively given, or if she can go into the mind of every character; to what degree she can interpret that character; to what degree she can know the past and the future; and how many authorial judgments will be allowed. For example, Chekhov uses Third person limited omniscient in his story, “Vanka.” Chekhov tells us when Vanka is thinking, but he doesn’t go into detail about what Vanka is thinking about. Chekhov lets the action show what Vanka is thinking about. If Chekhov had written the story in third person omniscient, then we would know everything that was on Vanka’s mind, and we would be given a great deal of interpretation about why Vanka acts the way he acts. If Chekhov had chosen to write “Vanka” in Third person objective, we would only get those details that could be outwardly observed. Vanka would not pause to think twice about how he should begin his letter to his grandfather. We might see him lift his pen, and then start writing again, but nothing more.
- Second Person: Second person is unusual in fiction and is more common in poetry. In second person, the character is not referred to as he or she, or by name, but rather as “you.” If Chekhov had written “Vanka” in second person, it would begin like this: “You, a boy of nine, who had been for three months apprenticed to Alyahin the shoemaker, were sitting up on Christmas Eve.”
- First Person: Authors use first person when a narrator who is also a character in the story speaks. Baldwin’s story, “Sonny’s Blues,” is written in first person, and begins: “I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work.” The narrator who speaks is Sonny’s older brother, and he is also the main character in the story.
What has been your favorite point of view in the past–i.e., which point of view have you usually migrated toward? Which points of view will you focus on this week?