The UVic Writer's Guide

Point of View

Point of view is the perspective from which a narrative is presented; it is analogous to the point from which the camera sees the action in cinema. (See also persona, tone, voice.) The two main points of view are those of the third-person (omniscient) narrator, who stands outside the story itself, and the first-person narrator, who participates in the story. The first type always uses third-person pronouns ("he," "she," "they"), while the latter narrator also uses the first-person ("I").

The all-knowing third-person narrator may choose to guide the reader's understanding of characters and the significance of their story. This type of narrator may be intrusive (commenting and evaluating, as in the novels of Austen, Dickens, and Tolstoy), or unintrusive (describing without much commentary, as in Flaubert's Madame Bovary [1857] and Hemingway's short stories). Another possibility is the limited omniscient narrator, who describes in the third-person only what is experienced by a few characters or one alone (see stream-of-consciousness narration).

The first-person narrator is a character within the story and therefore limited in understanding. He or she might be an observer who happens to see the events of the story (as in Conrad's Heart of Darkness [1902]), or play a minor role in the action (as in Melville's Moby-Dick [1851]), or might be a protagonist (as in Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye [1951]).

Other points of view include the self-conscious narrative, which draws attention to its own fictional nature (as in Fielding's Tom Jones [1749]); its cousin the self-reflexive narrative, which describes an act of fictional composition within its story (like a play-within-a-play); and the fallible or unreliable narrator, as in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw (1898) (see structural irony ).

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated May 13, 1995