Narrative Perspective

Ever read a novel and been confused as to whether you can trust the narrative perspective? What is an unreliable narrator, and how does this inform the narrative? What is the meaning behind a narrative perspective? Authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and F. Scott Fitzgerald intentionally write their works with a certain character's perspective in mind. Characters' perspectives of a narrative event can provide either one-sided or complex understandings that help the reader investigate or reimagine events. Narrative perspective also adds elements such as foreshadowing or uncertainty since characters may not have the full details of events outside of their senses or knowledge. 

Narrative Perspective Narrative Perspective

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Table of contents

    In this article, you will find the definition, examples, and analysis of the narrative perspective.

    Definition of narrative perspective

    What is the meaning or definition of a narrative perspective? Narrative perspective is the vantage point from which events of a story are filtered and then relayed to the audience.

    There are different types of narrative perspectives or points of view (POV):

    Point of ViewPronounsProsCons

    First person

    I / Me / Myself / Our / We / Us- The reader has an immersive (sensory) experience with the narrator and events. - Access to the narrator's thoughts and feelings. - First-hand account (or eye witness) to events in the text.

    - The reader is limited to the first person's point of view of events.

    - The reader does not know the thoughts or points of view of other characters.

    Second Person

    You / Your

    - Immersive experience with the narrator like in First-person. - Rare POV, which means it is unusual and memorable.

    - The narrator constantly says 'You' which means that the reader is unsure if they're being addressed.

    - The reader is uncertain of their level of participation in the text.

    Third person Limited

    He / She / They Him / Her / Them

    - The reader experiences some distance from the events.

    - Third-person can be more objective than First.

    - The reader is not limited to the first-person's 'eye'.

    - The reader can only gain information from the third-person narrator's mind and point of view.

    - Perspective of events remains limited.

    Third person Omniscient

    He / She / They

    Him / Her / Them

    - Usually the most objective / unbiased point of view.

    - The reader gets full knowledge of all characters and situations.

    - The reader has a reduced immediacy or immersion with events.

    - The reader experiences distance from the characters and has more characters to remember.

    Multiple person

    Multiple pronouns, usually he / she / they.

    - The reader is offered multiple points of view on one event.

    - The reader benefits from different points of view and gains different information without the need to go omniscient.

    - Like Omniscient, there are multiple main/focal characters, making it hard for the reader to identify with.

    - The reader may struggle to keep track of perspectives and points of view.

    As the table shows, a narrative point of view varies according to the narrator's degree of participation in the story.

    What are the types of narrative perspective?

    There are five different types of narrative perspective:

    • First-person narrative
    • Second-person narrative
    • Third-person limited narrative
    • Third-person omniscient narrative
    • Multiple points of view

    Let's have a look at each of them in turn and their meaning.

    What is a first-person narrative?

    The first-person narrative perspective relies on first-person pronouns - I, we. The first-person narrator has a close relationship to the reader. The reader can get a deeper understanding of the first-person narrator's mind more than the other characters. However, the first person can only tell the audience their memories and restricted knowledge of events. The first-person cannot relate events or insights into other characters' minds, so this is a subjective narrative perspective.

    Narrative perspective examples: Jane Eyre

    In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847), the bildungsroman is narrated in the first-person point of view.

    How people feel when they are returning home from an absence, long or short, I did not know: I had never experienced the sensation. I had known what it was to come back to Gateshead when a child, after a long walk - to be scolded for looking cold or gloomy; and later, what it was to come back from church to Lowood - to long for a plenteous meal and a good fire, and to be unable to get either. Neither of these returns were very pleasant or desirable.

    Narrative perspective analysis: Jane Eyre

    The titular Jane Eyre describes events at the moment she experiences them, and the novel features a series of reflections on her early life. By looking at this example's point of view, we see that Jane Eyre imparts her loneliness to the reader because of her emphasis on the 'I'. Bronte establishes that Jane has never experienced a 'home' for herself, and because it is in the first person, it appears as a confession to the reader.

    First-person narratives also allow narrators to witness an event or impart an alternative narrative perspective.

    Narrative Perspective, First person witness, StudySmarterFirst-person narratives allow narrators to witness an event. - freepik (fig. 1)

    In an inventive 'prequel' to Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), Jean Rhys has written a parallel novel that also uses first-person narrative. It explores Antoinette Cosway's (Bertha's) perspective before the events of Jane Eyre. Antoinette, a Creole heiress, describes her youth in Jamaica and her unhappy marriage to Mr Rochester. Antoinette's account is strange because she speaks, laughs, and yells in Wide Sargasso Sea but is silent in Jane Eyre. The first-person point of view allows Antoinette to reclaim her narrative voice and name, which means the novel features a postcolonial and feminist viewpoint.

    In this room I wake early and lie shivering for it is very cold. At last Grace Poole, the woman who looks after me, lights a fire with paper and sticks and lumps of coal. The paper shrivels, the sticks crackle and spit, the coal smoulders and glowers. In the end flames shoot up and they are beautiful. I get out of bed and go close to watch them and to wonder why I have been brought here. For what reason?

    The use of the first-person point of view emphasizes Antoinette's confusion when arriving in England. Antoinette requests sympathy from the reader, who knows what is happening to Antoinette and what will happen during the events of Jane Eyre.

    The first-person point of view offers an immersive experience for the reader. Why would authors want the reader to be immersed in the first-person's perspective if the narrator is potentially biased or is driven by their personal motivations?

    What is a second-person narrative?

    The second-person narrative perspective means the speaker narrates the story through second-person pronouns - 'You'. The second-person narrative is far less common in fiction than first or third-person and assumes that an implied audience is experiencing the narrated events along with the speaker. It has the immediacy of the first-person, yet calls attention to the process of narration which limits a back-and-forth involvement between narrator and audience.

    Second-person narrative perspective examples

    Tom Robbin's Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994) is written in the second-person point of view:

    Your propensity to be easily, blatantly embarrassed is one of the several things that annoys you about your lot in the world, one more example of how the fates love to spit in your consomme. The company at your table is another.'

    Robbin's second-person point of view implies the narrator is in a difficult situation concerning the financial market. The point of view sets the tone for the whole novel, and emphasizes the narrator's distress which the reader has an ambiguous part of - is the reader a witness, or the active participant to the distress?

    When do you think the second-person point of view is most needed in fiction?

    What is a third-person limited narrative?

    Third-person limited is the narrative perspective where the narrative is focused on one character's limited point of view. Third-person limited narrative is the story's narration through the third-person pronouns: he / she / they. The reader has a certain amount of distance from the narrator so has a more objective view of events because they are not limited to the first-person narrator's eye.

    Narrative perspective examples: James Joyce's Dubliners

    Consider this extract from 'Eveline' in James Joyce's short story collection Dubliners (1914):

    She had consented to go away, to leave her home. What that wise? She tried to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her. Of course she had to work hard, both in the house and at business. What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow?

    The reader has unique access to Eveline's dilemma about whether to leave her home. The distance between the reader and her point of view means that Eveline is isolated in her thoughts. Her uncertainty about her decision and other people's possible reactions emphasizes the fact that readers don't know what she is going to do, despite knowing about her inner thoughts.

    What is a third-person omniscient narrative?

    A third-person omniscient narrator provides an all-knowing point of view while still using third-person pronouns. There is an external narrator who assumes this all-knowing perspective. The narrator comments on multiple characters and their thoughts and perspectives on other characters. The omniscient narrator can inform the reader about plot details, inner thoughts, or hidden events that are happening outside of the characters' awareness or in places far away. The reader is distanced from the narrative.

    Narrative perspectives - Pride and Prejudice

    Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) is a famous example of the omniscient point of view

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters .

    The narrator assumes they know and can reveal everything to the implied audience about Regency society. The 'truth universally acknowledged' implies a collective knowledge - or prejudice! - about relationships and links the themes of marriage and wealth presented in the novel.

    When analysing the third-person point of view consider who knows what, and how much the narrator knows.

    What are multiple narrative perspectives?

    Multiple narrative perspectives show the events of a story from the position of two or more characters. The multiple points of view create complexity in the narrative, develop suspense, and reveal an unreliable narrator - a narrator who offers a distorted or vastly different account of the narrative's events. The multiple characters have unique perspectives and voices, which helps the reader distinguish who is telling the story.

    However, the reader needs to keep a close eye on who is speaking and the point of view being adopted at certain moments of the novel.

    An example of multiple points of view is Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows (2015), where the narrative switches between the six different perspectives on a single dangerous heist.

    Consider a group discussion where you have three narrators relating one crucial event. In this group, there is one narrator who always tells a story with over-exaggerated detail, one whom you know often lies unless it is about something important, and one who downplays their narration of events because they are shy and don't like to be in the spotlight. Which of these narrators would you consider an unreliable narrator?

    The difference between narrative perspective and point of view

    What is the difference between the narrative perspective and the point of view in a story?

    A point of view is a narration style, a method used by the author to present the character's perspectives of an event and their ideological viewpoints. Narrators tell the story, but the way they tell the reader the story is significant to the work's plot and themes.

    In literature, the narrative point of view is crucial for understanding the perspectives of who is telling the story, and who sees the story.

    How are narration and narrative perspective related?

    Narration is how a story is told. The point of view is how the story is written and who is telling it. However, the narrative perspective encompasses the narrator's voice, point of view, worldview, and a focaliser (i.e. What the narrative is focused on).

    The French Narrative theorist Gerard Genette coined the term focalization in Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method (1972). Focalization distinguishes between the narration and the perception of a story's events and becomes another term for point of view. According to Genette, who speaks and who sees are distinct issues. The three types of focalization are:

    • Internal - The narrative is presented through one character's point of view and describes only what a given character knows.
    • External - Events are recounted by a detached narrator who says less than the character knows.
    • Zero - This refers to the third-person omniscient narrator, where the narrator knows more than any of the other characters.

    Focalization is then the presentation of a scene through the subjective perception of a character. The nature of a given character's focalization is to be distinguished from the narrative voice.

    What is a narrative voice vs. the narrative perspective?

    The narrative voice is the narrator's voice as they recount the events of the story. The narrative voice is analysed by looking at the narrator's (which is either a character or author) spoken utterance - through their tone, style, or personality. As you can now recall, the meaning of narrative perspective is that it is the vantage point through which events are related.

    The distinction between narrative voice and point of view is that narrative voice relates to the speaker and how they address the reader.

    What is free indirect discourse?

    Free indirect discourse presents the thoughts or utterances as if it is from a character's narrative perspective. Characters relate a direct speech with features of a narrator's indirect report of their point of view of events.

    Direct discourse = She thought, 'I will go to the shop tomorrow.'

    Indirect discourse = 'She thought that she would go to the shops the next day.'

    This statement allows a third-person narrative to use a first-person narrative perspective. One literary example is Virgina Woolf's Mrs Dalloway (1925):

    Instead of 'Mrs Dalloway said,' I will buy the flowers myself 'Woolf writes:

    Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

    Woolf uses free indirect discourse to add Clarissa Dalloway's more engaging opinions and observations to an otherwise bland narrator.

    What is a stream of consciousness?

    Stream of consciousness is a narrative technique. It is usually portrayed from the first person narrative perspective and attempts to replicate the character's thought processes and feelings. The technique includes interior monologues and a character's reflections on their motivations or ideological viewpoints. The narrative technique mimics incomplete thoughts or their changing viewpoint of an event. Stream of consciousness narratives are usually told in the first-person narrative perspective.

    An example is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985), which uses a stream of consciousness to imply the narrator's recollection of her time as a handmaid. The novel flows with the narrator's thoughts, memories, emotions, and musings, yet the narrative structure is disjointed because of the past and present tense shifts.

    I wipe my sleeve across my face. Once I wouldn't have done that, for fear of smearing, but now nothing comes off. Whatever expression is there, unseen by me, is real. You'll have to forgive me. I'm a refugee from the past, and like other refugees I go over the customs and habits of being I've left or been forced to leave behind me, and it all seems just as quaint, from here, and I'm just as obsessive about it.

    The handmaid records her thoughts and witnessed accounts to a tape recorder. Atwood uses a stream of consciousness narrative for the reader to piece together the handmaid's thoughts and recollections of her past experiences. The reader then must contend with an account of the narrator forgetting or contradicting herself.

    Narrative Perspective, Stream of Consciousness, StudySmarterA stream of consciousness narrative is often used to allow the audience to follow the narrator's thoughts. - pixabay

    Tip: Ask yourself these questions when considering the narrative point of view.

    • Do I trust the narrator and their interpretation of events?
    • Is the narrator limited by their narrative perspective?
    • What social background informs the narrator's narrative perspective, and does that mean they are biased?

    Narrative Perspective - Key takeaways

    • A narrative perspective is the vantage point from which events of a story are filtered and then relayed to an audience.
    • The different types of narrative perspective include first-person (I), second-person (you), third-person limited (he / she / they), third-person omniscient (he / she / they), and multiple.
    • Narration is how a story is told. The point of view is how the story is written and who is telling the narrative.
    • A narrative perspective encompasses the narrator's voice, point of view, worldview, and a focaliser (i.e., what the narrative is focused on).
    • Focalization is the presentation of a scene through the subjective view of a character.


    1. Fig. 1. Image by macrovector on Freepik
    Frequently Asked Questions about Narrative Perspective

    What is 1st, 2nd and 3rd person point of views?

    First person is recounted directly from the narrators perspective and uses the pronouns "I, me, myself, our, we and us".

    Use of the second person point of view addresses the reader through using the pronouns "you, your."

    The third person offers a more objective perspective, creating a less immersive experience for the audience. Third person uses the pronouns "he, she, they, him, her, them."

    How are narration and point of view related?

    Narration is how a story is told. The point of view is how a story is written and who is telling the narrative.

    What does narrative point of view mean?

    A narrative point of view is the vantage point from which events of a story are filtered and then relayed to an audience.

    What is a narrative perspective?

    A narrative perspective encompasses the narrator’s voice, point of view, worldview, and a focaliser (ie, what the narrative is focused on).

    How to analyse narrative perspective?

    Narrative perspective can be analysed by looking at what point of view is used for the delivery of a narrative. For example, is it in the first person, second person or third person?

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following best describes the second-person point of view?

    Which of the following best describes internal focalisation?

    Which of the following does not describe the third-person omniscient point of view?


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