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In his essay “Aria,” from his book Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez adopts a first-person point of view. The effects of using this personal perspective are various and include the following:
- The first-person perspective immediately stimulates readers’ interest. Raders who might be uninterested in hearing a dry, theoretical explanation of political and educational theory are far more likely to be interested in a personal story, especially since that story is told, initially, from the perspective of a young boy. Most readers, having been children themselves at one time, will be interested in the story of another “former child.” They might not be so interested in pontifications by a fully formed adult.
- By using a first-person perspective, Rodriguez implies that his views are not merely the results of abstract rational thinking but are rather partly the results of actual personal experiences. He thereby suggests that he knows, from his own personal history, what he is talking about and that he has an opinion that is worth listening to for that reason, if for no other.
- By adopting a first-person point of view, Rodriguez encourages us to listen to his own voice as much as to his abstract arguments. Rather than seeming stiff, formal, and argumentative, he presents himself initially as a young boy who can speak with some conviction and authority about what he, himself, learned from real events in his own life. He does not simply rely on statistics gleaned from dry, academic studies.
- By adopting a first-person point of view, Rodriguez appeals to the natural human interest in hearing about the experiences of other humans. Since each person has a distinctive personal story to tell, and since we can often learn from such stories or relate them to our own, adopting a first-person point of view is an effective way for a writer to interest and intriguing most readers. It is not surprising, then, that the very first word of Rodriguez’s essay is “I”:
I remember to start with that day in Sacramento – a California now thirty years past – when I first entered a classroom, able to understand some fifty stray English words.
Notice the phrasing here. Rodriguez does not say “I remember that day . . .”; rather, he says, “I remember to start with that day” (emphasis added). He thus calls immediate attention not so much to his experience itself as to his decision about how to present that experience to his readers. Even from the very first sentence of the essay, then, Rodriguez is clearly interested not only in what he writes about but also in how he will present himself and his experiences to his readers.
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