The Difference Between an Observer and a Participant in a Narrative
A narrative is an account of characters, setting, and a plot, also known as a story. All stories have narrators, but not all stories’ narrators are immediately visible. In first-person narration, the narrator is a character in the story, and in third-person narration, the narrator is not a character in the story.
The narrator is the person or thing that tells the story, and the narrator does not have to be a character in the story or even a person. The narrator is never the author, even if the character who is narrating the story has the same name as the author. The identity of the narrator is revealed through the story’s point of view. A story with first-person point of view is narrated by a character within the story. The observer may be the main character in the story, but the participant is usually not.
Observer in a First-Person Narrative
An observer in a narrative is often the narrator. This type of narrator usually uses the first-person perspective using the pronoun “I” and is typically the main character. The observer presents the events of the story and the actions of other characters through his point of view and may participate in the events of the story. This narrator relays his thoughts and feelings, but does not have access to other characters’ thoughts and feelings.
Participant in a First-Person Narrative
A participant in a first-person narrative is typically another character in the story, and not the narrator. This character appears as a participant in the events. He may contribute to the conflict of the story, but his feelings and thoughts remain a mystery to the reader. Access to his or her motivations are also denied to the reader, though the reader may be able to make certain conclusions using the participant’s actions and behaviors.
In third-person narrated stories, observers and participants are characters, but not narrators. Third-person narrators are either omniscient, meaning they know everything about all events and characters including their thoughts and feelings, or limited, meaning they know only certain events and thoughts and feelings of certain characters. In these types of narratives, characters may observe and watch the events either as omniscient or limited third-person narrators, but the narration is not actually analyzed according to observer or participant status, like in first-person narration. Participants in third-person narratives are restricted to participating or acting in events, and may not make observations about the story.
Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.