We must have learnt by now that a writer tells a story but we have not discussed how that story is told. A story teller may tell the story as if he/she is a participant in that story or present it in such a way that it will be clear that he or she is reporting what happened to others. This manner of narration is basically called point of view. In this unit we will discuss this point of view and the different types we have in prose fiction
Definition of Point of View
In prose narrative, a writer could present the story in different ways. This is called point of view. Abrams defines point of view as the mode (modes) established by an author by means of which the reader is presented with the characters, dialogue, actions, settings and events which constitute the narrative work of fiction (165). The point of view signifies the way in which an author tells his/her story. It helps the reader to empathize with specific characters and the understand certain ideas. In other words, point of view reveals the position from which the events are presented by the writer and observed by the reader. The story could be presented through the mouth of one or more of the characters or by the writer.
A narrator may be either obtrusive or unobtrusive, depending on the author’s intended relationship between himself, the narrator, the point-of-view character, and the reader. Point of view is the therefore the perspective from which the reader hears, sees, and feels the story (Kennedy)
Types of Point of View
There are many types of point of view. When the story is told by one of the characters in the narrative, it is called the first person narrative. The writermight decide to narrate the story him/herself. In this case, it is called the omniscient point of view. Other forms of narrative modes include the second person narrative and the multiple or mixed point of view. The writer therefore has many choices regarding the narrator of his or her story but the omniscient narrative mode is used by many writers.
Omniscient Point of View
The third-person point of view is a narrative mode in which both the author presents events and situations through narration, and through the senses and thoughts of more than one character. The writer presents the actions, hopes, aspirations and other psychological and emotional states of the characters through an “overarching godlike perspective that sees and knows everything that happens and everything the characters are thinking”(Kennedy62 ).
This is why this point of view is referred to as the omniscient narrative or the eye of God. Do you know why it is called the eye of God? God see and knows everything about everybody including their thoughts and feelings. In this type of narration, the writer is presumed to see and know everything about the characters including their innermost thoughts.
Likewise, the omniscient narrator can tell the reader things that the main character does not know, or things that none of the characters know, or things that no human being in the fictional world could ever know. This means that this narrative goes beyond the characters’ knowledge and experiences as it allows the writer to explore and describe the thoughts and feelings and the environment in the work.
Apart from the third person omniscient narrative, there is the third-person limited point of view, which limits narration to what can be known, seen, thought, or judged from a single character’s perspective.The narrator is the teller of the story, the orator, in the oral tradition, or its in-print equivalent. The story is presented in the third person but the narrator does not present the thoughts and feelings of the characters.
The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe masterfully employs this point in most of his novels. In one of his novels, Arrow of God, Achebe as the narrator describes the actions, thoughts and feelings of the characters to reflect the limits of human power in relation to historical and spiritual forces beyond human control within the framework of the story. The novel is concluded with the writer’s entry into Ezeulu’s mind, the central character, in order to reveal to the reader the “…baffling contradictions in which Ezeulu is trapped because his actual experience has run counter to his most strongly held expectations and his life, therefore, has lost its centre of meaning” (Adepoju 90).
First Person Point of View
In the first person point of view the narrator speaks directly from his or her own experience, often represented by the narrator’s consistent use of the first person pronoun “I”. This narrator who says ‘I’ is often a participant in the events of the story. He /she may be an observer, the protagonist or a minor character but the narrator seems to be standing a little to one side, watching a story that mainly concerns him/herself or someone else as it unfolds.
The first person point of view has an advantage of revealing intimately to the reader the character’s growing response to his experience and environment as portrayed through the progression of the narrative. This firsthand account of the narration produces an intimacy that helps to further captivate the interest of the reader. It also helps to reduce the communicative distance between the reader and the experiences of the characters, as portrayed in the story.When the first-person narrator is the protagonist or major character in the work, he/she tells his/her own story, as in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson CrusoeandCamaraLaye’sThe African Child.
It is difficult for the narrator in this point of view to present a broad vision of the action and understanding of the other characters. The information is limited because he is presenting the story from his own individual point of view but this “limitation is made up for by the immediacy of communication created through this style of narration”(Adepoju 96).
Advantages and Disadvantages
The intimacy mentioned above is an advantage because it makes the narration sound realistic as it is a firsthand account from a participant. He/she can only present accounts of events he has witnessed or state the source of the information he did not experience. The advantage is that the narration is seen as“authentic as the narrator imbues the story with a sense of actuality”(Ezeigbo 22 ). It is as if the reader is listening to a witness who actually witnessed the event. The narration is, therefore, vivid.
Another advantage is that the reader experiences the greatest sense of involvement in thismode of narration. Thus, empathy with the protagonist, whose experience and adventures the reader shares, is developed to the fullest.
The only disadvantage of this mode is that the narrator is limited in the information he/she is capable of giving because he/she cannot report what was not observed and cannot probe the inner personalities of the characters.
Second Person Point of View
This point of view is rarely used by writers. As the name implies, it is a narration presented in the second person pronoun, “you”. You will agree with me that that it is difficult to tell somebody a story in which that person is not involved by saying ‘you did this …you did that’. However, it has been used in a short story by AkachiEzeigbo. This point of view is not realistic.
Multiple Point of View
This occurs when a number of characters tell the story. There may or may not be a central narrator; but there are usually a number of voices/narrators who move the story forward, each contributing to and passing judgment on the action.
This narrative technique has the advantage of allowing the reader to “hear” the story from different perspectives and angles. Thus, the account provided is a detailed, fully developed three-dimensional one.
Point of view is the perspective from which the story is narrated. It represents“ the vantage point of awareness from which the events of the story unfold. Generally, the omniscient point of view is represented by the writer narrating the story through the description of the actions and the characters from his vantage point as the creator of the story who is aware of all aspects of the characters’ lives and the progression of the story that the characters themselves do not know. The first person point of view presents a more seemingly authentic account of narration in prose fiction
We have seen that point of view is the perspective through which the story is presented in prose fiction. There are four types of point of view but most writers use the first and third points of view. The former presents the narration through the mouth of a participant in the story and that narrator presents only events he/she witnessed or the information someone else related to him other. The narrator in the third person point of view knows and presents a holistic account of events and characters in the work because he/she sees beyond all the characters.