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Narrator

From Academic Kids

The Narrator is the entity within a story that tells the story to the reader. It is one of three entities responsible for story-telling of any kind. The others are the Author and the Reader (or Audience). The Author and the Reader both inhabit the real world. It is the Author's function to create the alternate world, people, and events within the story. It is the Reader's function to understand and interpret the story. The Narrator exists within the world of the story (and only there^) and presents it in a way the Reader can comprehend.

The concept of the Narrator (as opposed to Author) became more important with the rise of the novel in the 19th Century. Until the late 1800s, literary criticism as an academic exercise dealt soley with poetry (including epic poems like The Iliad and Paradise Lost, and poetic drama like Shakespeare). Most poems did not have a narrator distinct from the author. But novels, with their immersive fictional worlds, created a problem, especially when the narrator's views differed significantly from that of the author.

A good story must have a well-defined and consistent narrator. To this end there are several rules that govern the narrator. It* exists in the world of the story, not in the world of the Reader or the Author. The narrator is a single entity with definite attributes and limitations. The narrator cannot communicate anything it does not encounter. In other words the narrator sees the story from the point it occupies within the fictional world. This is called point of view.


^In non-fiction the narrator and the author can share the same persona, since the real world and the world of the story are the same.

* for clarity and by convention, the Author is referred to as 'he', the Reader is 'she' and the Narrator and the Work are 'it'.


Contents

Point of view

The narrator of any work has certain characteristics and limitations that define how the author can tell the story. Most importantly, a narrator can only tell the reader things that it has experienced. There are four kinds of point of view: first person; second person; third person, limited; and third person, omniscient. Both third person points of view and the first person point of view are common. The second person point of view is very rarely used.

First person

In a first person narrative, the narrator is a character in the story. This character takes actions makes judgements and has opinions and biases. In this case the narrator gives and withholds information based on its own viewing of events. It is an important task for the reader to determine as much as possible about the character of the narrator in order to decide what "really" happens. This type of narrator is usually noticeable for its ubiquitous use of the first-person pronoun, "I".

Example:

  • "I could picture it. I have a rotten habit of picturing the bedroom scenes of my friends. We went out to the Cafe Napolitain to have an apertif and watch the evening crowd on the Boulevard." from The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. The narrator is protagonist Jake Barnes.

The narrator can be the protagonist (ie. Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four), someone very close to him, who is privy to his thoughts and actions (Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes), or an ancillary character who has little to do with the action of the story (Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby). A narrator can even be a character relating the story second-hand.

The first person narrator is the type most obviously distinct from the author. It is a character in the work, who must follow all of the rules of being a character, even during its duties as narrator. For it to know anything, it must experience it with its senses, or be told about it. It can interject its own thoughts and opinions, but not those of any other character, unless clearly told about those thoughts.

In autobiographical fiction, the first person narrator is the character of the author (with varying degrees of accuracy). The narrator is still distinct from the author and must behave like any other character and any other first person narrator. Examples of this kind of narrator include Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries and Kurt Vonnegut in Timequake. In some cases, the narrator is writing a book ("the book in your hands"), therefore it has most of the powers and knowledge of the author.

The first person narrator may directly address the reader, though it is usually considered bad form unless there is a valid reason and explanation. Usually this is done when the intended audience is also a fictional character within the book. This is the case in novels written in the form of letters, known as epistolary novels, (Mary Shelly's Frankenstein) or as told to another character (Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint).

Second person

In this case, the narrator is supposedly the reader, and refers to itself with the second person pronoun, 'You.' This is the rarest of the points of view because, though theoretically possible, it does not work very well. A reader narrating to herself would never call herself, 'you,' and anything the narrator does is questionable. The tongue-in-cheek example below makes this point.

Example:

  • "You walk into the room and see a man sitting in a chair. You think his bald head and bulging stomach are quite attractive. You decide to kiss his bare feet." You are the narrator, and are apparently kinky.

This type of narration is most common in interactive fiction and Choose Your Own Adventure books. Role-playing games, could also be considered second person fiction. The second person format has been used in at least a few popular novels, most notably Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, and Tom Robbins' Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas as well as many short stories. When done well, the reader imagines herself within the action. Most stories written in second person are probably closer to first-person with "you," replacing "I."

Third person, limited

This style of narrator is similar to the first person narrator, except for the notable use of the third person pronouns, he, she and it. The plot centers around a protagonist and covers only that with which the character is involved. But this character is not the narrator. The narrator is disembodied. It does nothing, casts no judgements, expresses no opinions and has no physical form in or out of the story. This narrator is privy to the thoughts, feelings, and memories of the protagonist, but of no other characters.

Example:

  • "Stephen closed his eyes and held out in the air his trembling hand with the palm upwards. He felt the prefect of studies touch it for a moment at the fingers to straighten it and then the swish of the sleeve of the soutane as the pandybat was lifted to strike." A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce. The narrative is limited to the experiences of Stephen Dedalus.

A way to think of the third person narrator is as a camera peering over the shoulder of the protagonist, recording what transpires for the reader. This point of view is very similar to the first person point of view, but it allows information in a way not possible in the first person. This narrator can present details encountered, but not noticed by the protagonist. It can make observations that the protagonist would never make about himself, like the color of his eyes, or his personal failings. Any such details made by the narrator about itself would be highly dubious, but when given by the third person narrator, should be trusted. The narrator doesn't make blatant judgments; some subjective observations can seep in, but if the reader ever doubts or disagrees with the judgments of the narrator, she will dismiss the work as a whole. The third person narrator is inherently trustworthy.

Third person, omniscient

The third person, omniscient narrator is very similar to the third person, limited narrator. This narrator is also disembodied, takes no actions, casts no judgments, expresses no opinions and has no physical form in or out of the story. But, being omniscient, it witnesses all events happening to all characters, and events that no characters witness. It is privy to all things past and present as well as the thoughts of all characters. The story can focus on any character at any time and on events where there is no character. The third person, omniscient narrator is the most reliable narrator; the reader should feel the narrator is truthful and forthcoming at all times.


in progress --Inverarity 03:49, 19 May 2005 (UTC)

If a tree fell in the woods and no one was there to hear it, the third person, omniscient narrator still knows what sound it made.

Types of narrator

in progress--Inverarity 01:58, 1 May 2005 (UTC)

An unreliable narrator is a character who may be giving an imperfect or incorrect account, either consciously or unconsciously. This can be due to that character's biases, ulterior motives, psychological instability, youth, or a limited or second-hand knowledge of the events. The author in these cases must give reader information the narrator does not intend she may deduce the truth. This process creates a tension that is a central force behind the power of first person narratives, and provide the only unbiased clues about the character of the narrator. To some extent ALL narrators are unreliable, varying in degree from trust-worthy Ishmael in Moby Dick to the severely retarded Benjy in The Sound and the Fury and the criminal Humbert Humbert in Lolita. Other notable examples of unreliable narrators include Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, and Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.

Unreliable narrators aren't limited to fiction. Memoirs, autobiographies and autobiographical fiction have the author as narrator and character. Sometimes the author purposely makes his narrator persona unreliable such as Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries. Other times the author himself is unreliable. This is generally the case in political memoirs where biases and ulterior motives dominate. This is especially true in campaign books such as George W. Bush's A Charge to Keep or John Edwards' Four Trials.

A writer's choice of narrator is crucial for the way a work of fiction is perceived by the reader. Generally, a First-Person narrator brings greater focus on the feelings, opinions, and perceptions of a particular character in a story, and on how that character views the world and the views of other characters. If the writer's intention is to get inside the world of a character, then it is a good choice, although a third-person limited narrator is an alternative that doesn't require the writer to reveal all that a first-person character would know. By contrast, a third-person omniscient narrator gives a panoramic view of the world of the story, looking into many characters and into the broader background of a story. For stories in which the context and the views of many characters are important, a third-person narrator is a better choice.

See also

External reference

es:Narrador he:דובר (ספרות) hu:Narrtor ja:ナレーター pl:Narrator

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