Learn a Little Lit—the point of point-of-view

pencil-pointOlive Kitteridge  got me thinking about point of view—who gets to tell the story. Elizabeth Strout’s book shifts from character to character, a narrative technique that lends her work its depth and beauty. 

We see Olive, not only as she sees herself, but as she’s seen by the community.  The pay-off is a richer, far more complicated portrait of Olive than if she alone—or any single narrator—had told us the story.

Point of view, or perspective, is one of the most important decisions an author has to make.  Whoever tells the story shapes the story.

A little game:  take a couple of novels, change the narrators…and see what happens. Try this as a book club activity. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Remains of the Day:  what if Miss Kenton told the story rather than the butler Stevens?  We’d miss the rich irony of a hopelessly naive narrator.  In fact, if we weren’t inside Stevens’s head, he would seem a pitiless monster of a being.

  • Gilead: if we were to see the story through shifty, unreliable Jack Boughton, the story’s prodigal son, we would never experience our own sense shame as we, along with Reverend Ames, willfully pass judgment on a misunderstood character. 

More on point of view at a later date.  In the meantime take our free LitCourse 8 on Point of View.  It’s fun…quick…and informative.


0 #1 Dyan 2011-08-01 13:39
My all-time favorite example... truly eye-opening, it really changed the way I thought of POV... Wide Sargasso Sea. It was so smart of Jean Rhys to give such history and depth to the crazy woman in the attic from Jane Eyre. For years, how many readers just accepted that she was crazy with no thought of a younger Rochester nor a love story? I have carried that through all my readings since. Another fun example I just read this summer is Something Borrowed and Something Blue by Emily Giffin. The former narrated by the "good girl" best friend and the latter by the "other". The first book is a fun, light read and if you have read it, I think the 2nd is a must. It really made the characters more well-rounded and gave the story a desirable finish.
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