Student: English Department Introduction to literary theory Viewpoints in literature (Essay) Sarajevo, February 2010 Mentor: A viewpoint in literature is the point of view from which the narrator tells us the story. The basic division of viewpoints is external and internal viewpoints. External viewpoint is used if the narrator is not a part of the story himself, but is rather telling us about other people who are participants of the story. It can be omniscient and objective. Omniscient narration is the type of narration in which the narrator is somewhat a God-like figure.
He knows all the characters of the story, he knows their thoughts and emotions, knows the relationships between them and he passes judgment on them. Not only does he know all the thoughts of the characters, but he also knows the things that are unknown to the characters, and can in some cases know things that no human being could possibly know (e. g. , what the first conscious creature felt like as it climbed out of the primordial ooze, in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
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A good example of the omniscient third person narration is “Tom Jones” by H. Fielding. In this novel the reading experience is enriched by the presence of the all knowing figure who guides us trough the action, examples of the omniscient narration in literature are J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings, George Eliot’s Middlemarch etc. The other type of external viewpoint is objective viewpoint. This viewpoint, also known as “fly on the wall” approach is unbiased and without some of the details one may find in the omniscient point of view.
The author doesn’t give us emotions and thoughts of the characters, but only gives us a realistic view of the character’s actions. He also doesn’t interpret the ctions, passes no moral Judgment and doesn’t give us a pre made perspective of characters. He lets us decide what to think of the characters and their actions on our own. This style is often used by the press, in magazines and newspaper. The journalists need to stay objective so this viewpoint is best suited for their works.
Good examples of this viewpoint in modern literature are works of Ernest Hemingway such as “Women without men” and “Short and happy life of Frances Macombre” from 20th century. Aside from external viewpoints in which the narrator is not directly involved in the action, there are also two types of internal narration. These two are protagonist narration and witness narration. In protagonist narration we have a narrator who tells us a story in which he participates. He tells us his own feelings, emotions, thoughts as well as describing the actions of all the participants, and his own actions.
He can describe events well as he is a significant participant of the events in the story. A great example of this type of narration can be found in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”. The book is divided into four parts, and in each of these parts Swift narrates from the perspective of the main character, Lemuel Gulliver. In this book we get to enter the mind of one character. We do not know the thoughts of the others, but we know Gulliver’s thoughts and his emotions and his opinions of other characters and events.
This type of narration is not objective. We are introduced to characters and their actions trough certain eyes, which means we might very often not be bale to make our own Judgment of other characters, as the narrator has already passed the Judgment and we know only his view of a specific character. One thing we can do however is find out a great deal of information about he character whose perspective is used and then decide on what really happened based on our Judgment of him.
As this is a first person narration it is usually told using first person singular “l”, but in some cases the plural “we” is also used (The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia by Joan Chase etc. ). The other type of internal point of view in literature is the witness point of view. This type of narration is similar to omniscient in some ways. The narrator in this case is not some mystic God-like figure, but rather a witness of the events that he s describing.
Unlike omniscient narrator he does not know the thoughts and emotions of the characters, but he gives us his own opinions, emotions and thoughts. An example of this narration can be found in Herman Mallvile’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”. The narrator avoids his own actions and only mentions them when they are in direct association with the main character. He tells us of Bartlebys character, temperament the way he sees them. He talks about the characters and actions from his own perspective so it can be expected that he will at times be biased and subjective.