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Point of view

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The point of view (also known as focalization) is a term introduced to the study of narrative fiction by the French structuralist theorist Gerard Genette. The term refers to the visual, psychological or ideological perspective from which the story is being told.

Narration and point of view

The point of view is not to be confused with the narrator. To find the narrator you may ask who is telling the story. To find the point of view you may ask who is seeing it, or from whose side it is being told. Although usually different narrators are used to present different points of view (see for instance The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner), the same single narrator can adopt several different points of view.

Examples of the same narrator using various points of views, can be found in many first-person retrospective narratives. Those are stories of past events told by someone who has expirienced them. When a narrator tells the story of his or her childhood, he or she may adopt the point of view of an adult, may narrate the events from the point of view he or she used to have as a child or could combine both. For a good example of this see Araby by James Joyce. This can be seen in mystery novels too: detectives who recount their past cases, usually tell much of the story from the point of view they had when their knowledge of the crime was still incomplete. For examples of this see any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlok Holme's stories, all of them retrospectively narrated by Doctor Watson.

First-person narrators are often used to tell the story from a limited perspective. However, a third-person omniscient (all-knowing) narrator may choose to tell the story from a limited point of view. In mystery novels for instance, all-knowing third person narrators, often tell the stories from the limited point of view of the detective, who still has to gather the clues to see the whole picture.

Different types of point of view

The point of view is not only related to the visual perspective. Rimmon-Kennan classifies it into three types:

  • Perceptive: Sight, sound, etc
  • Psychological: Knowledge and emotions
  • Ideological.

A narrator can adopt at the same time different types of points of view. For instance, a narrator can tell an event as a character sees it visuall, but from a totally opposite ideological point of view. As an example see Ivan Ilich's Death by Leo Tolstoy.

References

Rimmon-Kennan, Shlomith. (2002). Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. Routledge: London and New York. ISBN: 0415280222

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