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The Two Types of Narrative Point of View


Narrative point of view is the perspective from which the narrator tells a story. The two major narrative points of view are first person and third person omniscient. A narrator that uses first person uses "I" and "me" and knows only her own thoughts, while a narrator that speaks in third person omniscient uses only "she," "he" and "they" and knows the thoughts of all characters, like an all-seeing god.

First Person Point of View

A first person narrator is usually also the main character, or protagonist, in a story. Because the protagonist only knows his own thoughts, his perspective is limited. The reader only receives information from the protagonist's perspective, and he may be naïve or unreliable. However, first person narration imparts to the reader a sense of immediacy and realism. Additionally, because the reader sees events through the eyes of the protagonist, the reader almost feels as though he were part of the character.

Literary Examples of First Person Point of View

A first person narrator largely influences a reader's perspective of events. In "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, the reader experiences the story through the eyes (and memory) of Scout, as she struggles to understand intensifying social conflicts around her. Because she is only a little girl, her interpretation of events is not only humorous but also allows the reader to perceive events from a fresh, innocent point of view, one that is untainted by prejudice and hate. Author Charlotte Perkins Gillman also chose a first person narrator for her short story "The Yellow Wallpaper." The reader experiences first-hand the hallucinations of a mad woman, but her vague understanding of the remedies of her doctor husband leave the reader wondering how mad she really is.

Third Person Omniscient Point of View

An omniscient narrator, because she can see the thoughts of all characters, is generally trustworthy. Observing the story through a third person omniscient narrator may allow the reader to make more informed judgment calls about characters because his information is not limited. However, an omniscient narrator is not necessarily without bias; even an omniscient narrator frames a story for the reader, and an author can create a narrator how she likes. Readers should consider an omniscient narrator as a character, just like the other characters in the story.

Literary Examples of Third Person Omniscient Point of View
Mary Ann Evans created narrators that project their own observations into the story.

The use of third person omniscient creates a grand, epic tone for the three part saga "The Lord of the Rings" by J. R. R. Tolkien. The story reads like folklore or fairy tale, with an all-seeing storyteller chronicling events that shaped the history of Middle Earth. With a cast of more than a dozen characters, the narrator not only delves into the thoughts of the unlikely hero, Frodo Baggins, but also his companions and even enemies to craft a rich tapestry of identities. Similarly, the narrator in "Silas Marner" by George Eliot relates the thoughts of all characters to the reader, but this narrator does not refrain from making judgments and personal observations about them. Learning that the thoughts of various characters conflict with each other, such as those of Silas Marner and Godrey Cass, heightens tension for the reader.

About the Author

Nadine Smith has been writing since 2010. She teaches college writing and ESL courses and has several years experience tutoring all ages in English, ESL and literature. Nadine holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where she led seminars as a teaching assistant.

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