Impacts of Point of View in Fiction
In the previous article titled Point of View in Fiction: Nature and Types, we have seen that point of view is essentially a method of presentation. It is the particular voice (or narrator, speaker, teller or persona) selected by the author through which he conveys his story, defines a problem, or describes a state of mind. In writing a story, an author can choose one or more of the first-person, the second-person, or the third person to suit his intentions.
Thus, to the readers, point of view is the perspective through which they see the action, observe the characters, view the setting, hear the dialogues and even learn what a character thinks and feels by seeing inside his or her mind (if the author employs the omniscient viewpoint). Different points of view naturally impact the information sent. If you listen to five different persons who saw an accident, you will get five different versions of report, depending on where each of them was at the time the accident occurred. Thus, the author’s choice of viewpoint will impact the readers’ understanding of the story and determines how close they feel to what’s happening in the story.
This article discusses the impacts of point of view on the reading of fiction in general and short story in particular. The discussion is divided into three sub-sections.
1. Viewpoint affects readers’ understanding of the story’s theme.
Point of view illuminates the theme of a story as it is the major method an author can use to accentuate his theme’s universality or particularity. A third-person, especially the omniscient viewpoint, is generally used to emphasize that the theme of the story is universal, i.e. it exists worldwide or affects people in a particular group, if not all over the world. A first-person viewpoint is generally employed to accentuate the particularity of the theme, i.e., it essentially affects a group of people though it might not exist in other groups. A second-person viewpoint usually highlights the closeness of the idea to the reader.
Chopin's The Story of an Hour expresses the idea of the importance of personal freedom in a marriage. It reveals the idea that an enslaved wife prefers to have her husband dead in order to have an independent life. Using the limited omniscient point of view, Chopin means to accentuate that unhappy wives living unhappily because they are enslaved in their marriage exist anywhere in the world. To get freedom, when they are given an opportunity, they will choose to live free of their husband’s domination.
O' Henry's The Last Leaf concerns with the idea that a true masterpiece can have various faces. Some masterpieces are measured by the money it earns or the fame it produces. Yet, according to O’ Hendry, the ability to save one’s life will also make a work a masterpiece. In the story, Behrman, who has waited long to create a masterpiece, dies after painting a leaf during a cold and wild night to let Johnsy regain his motivation to live. The story is told by an objective third-person narrator. By providing information, actions, and speeches objectively, O’ Hendry tries to accentuate that a work that help one regain his motivation to live is universally a masterpiece.
Hemingway's Old Man at the Bridge expresses the theme that war victimizes people’s life and their beloved family. The story is told using the first-person narrator to accentuate that the idea should be viewed through the war correspondent’s perspective. If the war is perceived by a politician or a general, the result will be very different. It might be focused on the idea of how to win the war at any cost.
Egan’s Black Box, reveals the theme that American society and the whole world’s security are threatened by terrorism particularly in the post-”9·11” period. By employing the second-person narrative in the story, Egan leads the readers to participate in the story and allows them to sense the same feelings, concerns, and worries as the protagonist does. By doing so, Egan manages to highlight the closeness of the theme to the readers. This certainly helps the readers understand the ideas.
2. Viewpoint affects readers’ objectivity in considering the story.
In general, the third-viewpoint, especially the omniscient point of view, allows the narrator to tell his story with great freedom. He can move from one setting to another or from one event to another to give the reader a detailed, fully developed, three-dimensional picture in motion. He can also produce any useful bit of information without having to explain how he got it. He can even provide editorials to make his point clear. All of these allow the readers to view matters objectively.
Unlike the omniscient viewpoint, the first-person narrator conveys everything through his personal eyes and this makes the story more immediate and actual. Consequently, the reader will get a sense of immediate involvement in the action and feel close to the protagonist in the story.
Chopin's The Story of an Hour the limited omniscient point of view. This enables the narrator to provide a vivid characterization of the wife. But that characterization and the way she lives sound not very close not to mention intimate to the reader. Therefore, the reader tends to consider the matter objectively.
On the other hand, Boccaro’s A Long walk Home employs the first-person narrator. It is told by Jackson, one of the characters who narrates his own experience. This lets the readers personally get involved with the events so that they perceive the matter subjectively. It also causes Jackson’s bitter experience that makes him wiser feel natural and close to the reader.
3. Viewpoint affects the life-likeness of a story to the readers.
Since the first-person narrator use makes the story more immediate and actual (as he conveys everything through his personal eyes) the reader will feel the story more life-like. It is different from a story told by an omniscient narrator, in which everything is conveyed impersonally or objectively. The use of the omniscient narrator emerges a ‘distance’ between the narrator and other characters. And this, in turn, creates a sense of detachment between the readers and the story.
The use of the first-person narrator in Hemingway’s Old Man at the Bridge enables the readers to share the old man’s misery. The readers would easily empathize with him. On the other hand, the use of the limited omniscient point of view in Chopin’s The Story of an Hour makes the events and characters detached from the reader.