Identifying the Narrative POV

Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13620

Understanding the narrator's point of view is crucial to understanding a text. Not all narrators are to be completely trusted! This lesson will explain why.

categories

Comprehension, Writing

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Read this excerpt from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:

It's this detail, the untucked blouse forming a ducktail, that brings me back to myself.

"Prim!" The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. "Prim!"

I don't need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.

"I volunteer!" I gasp. "I volunteer as tribute!"

  • Do you know who is speaking in this excerpt?
  • Do you know if it is first, second, or third-person narration?

Read on to find out!

In the excerpt from The Hunger Games above, the speaker is Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the novel.

The book is told from her point of view.

  • Do you know what this is called when a character is telling the story directly?

first-person

This is known as first-person narration.

Which Person Is Which?

  • What is the difference between first, second, and third-person narration?

Take a look at this graphic of the different types:

narrator types

  1. The first-person narrator is represented by the character saying I and we.
  2. The second-person narrator is represented by the character saying you.
  3. The third-person narrator is represented by the character saying he, she, it, and they.
  • How does this correspond to narrative point of view (POV)?

Take the example above from The Hunger Games. It is first-person narration.

  • Why?

Second-Person

Second-person narration is the most uncommon of the three.

This type of narration addresses the reader directly, using the second-person pronoun you throughout the story as if you the reader are the main character of the story.

While this creates a more immersive reading experience, it does not suit all narratives.

An example of this type of narration would be classic Choose Your Own Adventure novels, in which the reader is the main character and the plot is determined by the choices the reader makes as they progress through the story.

This is what it looks like:

You are walking through the forest when you suddenly realize you are no longer on the path. The brush is starting to get much thicker, and you cannot remember exactly the last time you were on the path. To your left, you hear rustling in the brush.

Do you...

.. walk toward the sound to investigate? (Turn to page 7.)

.. turn and run away, hopefully back toward the path? (Turn to page 12.)

  • Would you enjoy reading a story in second-person narration?

Third-Person

Third-person narration comes from someone or something telling the story for others. This can be an all-knowing non-character, or perhaps an unnamed observer telling the story.

The term for an all-knowing non-character narrator is third-person omniscient, and this type of narrator sees all because they are not participants in the story.

The term for a third-person narrator that is outside of the story is third-person limited. They are limited by the inability to know and see all. They have access to one character's inner thoughts and feelings, but often not completely (as this narrator is an observer and not a participant in the story).

Reliability

trust

An important consideration when you read fiction is determining the reliability of the narrator.

  • Meaning, how much can you trust what the narrator is saying to be true?

Although the first-person point of view does have its benefits, it has its drawbacks as well.

With this point of view, the reader receives information from a single character. The reader learns the actions, thoughts, and emotions of that character.

In stories where the protagonist is the narrator, this information creates a crucial part of the reader's ability to fully understand and connect with that character.

However, when the first-person point of view is used, readers are only receiving one part of the whole picture. All the information being received is being filtered through the lens of this single character.

Therefore, certain biases and prejudices can appear. The reader only gains information from the perspective of a single character, and it is important for the reader to remember that.

In the omniscient point of view, the narrator is not a character within the text. Instead, this point of view provides an all-seeing, all-hearing, and all-knowing narrator that will present information to the reader.

This godlike figure, in essence, hovers above the action of the story reporting all that is said, done, and felt. Omniscient point of view gives the reader a unique opportunity to get inside the heads of all the story's dynamic characters.

This perspective gives the reader the ability to make true judgment calls on the actions of the characters. It also gives the reader a peek into the possible motivations behind those actions.

Omniscient point of view provides the most unbiased information for a reader about a work of literature.

Third-person limited may seem very similar to that of the first-person point of view, but the two do differ.

In the first-person, the reader is getting his or her information directly from a character within the text. Just as people tend to misjudge situations and others, so may the character from whose perspective the story is being told.

However, with the third-person limited point of view, readers are not getting their information directly from that character. Instead, they receive the information from an outside source observing that character.

Third-person limited point of view may not be as unbiased as the omniscient perspective, but it is certainly a less biased point of view than that of first-person.

Second-person narratives are uncommon and reliability doesn't factor in, since this type of storytelling provides an experience for the reader rather than telling a story in the traditional sense.

Review

  • Did you do well on the review questions?

Re-read the material if you still feel uncertain, and retell what you've read back to yourself when you finish. Then, try the review questions again.

  • Ready to move on?

Click through to the Got It? section.

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