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Explain the difference in effects between a 1st person and 3rd person narrator.(Please...

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japi | Honors

Posted October 12, 2010 at 8:13 AM via web

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Explain the difference in effects between a 1st person and 3rd person narrator.

(Please exemplify these points of view with the stories "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck, "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen, and "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe)

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 12, 2010 at 9:16 AM (Answer #1)

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Your question has to do with the issue of point of view. This means the vantage point from which a writer tells a story. This has a very powerful impact on a story and how we read it. The traditional point of view that is adopted is third person, which means that the story is narrated by an observer who can see what is going on in the action of the story. The storyteller is, on the whole, outside the story's action and is looking in, like someone looking into a fish tank and describing what he sees, except that this someone has the power to see the action from all angles and see what the fish are thinking.

At the opposite extreme from the third person point of view is the first person point of view. In these stories, an "I" narrates what is happening to us. This narrator also participates in the action, usually as the main character. The first person point of view presents only what the narrator, the "I", can see or feel. To use the analogy above, the first person point of view would be like a fish in the fish tank telling the story from his perspective.

Of course, with the first person point of view, the narrator might be reliable or unreliable - and great works of literature have been written using the unreliable narrator, such as "The Cask of Amontillado".

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 12, 2010 at 9:22 AM (Answer #2)

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The perspective, or vantage point, from which a story is told, point of view has a significant effect upon the narrative.  If a character within the story tells the story, then the reader views that narrative from the subjective view of the character.  This point of view know as first person narrator can be anywhere from fairly realistic to very unreliable.  In Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," for instance, the reader learns of Fortunato only from the the avenging Montesor who controls the narrative, relating the story with no diversion, no explanation, and little emotion. And, with such a narrator, the elements of mystery and horror are intensified while Poe allows the reader no interpretation of his narrative, deciding what to reveal and what to hide.  While a third person narrator would have been better able to have presented a more balanced story since he/she could not perceive what goes on in the minds of the characters, the gothic effects of Poe's story would have been minimalized.

In Tillie Olsen's story that employs the first person narrator, the narrative assumes the stream-of-consciousness motif.  With this mode of first person,"I Stand Here Ironing" becomes much more the narrator's story than it is the daughter's, although the school official has come to talk about the daughter.  Interestingly, this internal monologue of the mother allows the narrative to vacillate in time as she examines her conscience and assesses both her actions as a mother and the behavior of her daughter. As in Poe's story, the focus is predominantly upon the narrative and other characters feelings and thoughts are in the shadows of those of the narrator.

In contrast to the first person narrator, the third person narrator is a voice from outside, rather than inside, the story.  If the knowledge of the storyteller is limited to the internal states of one character, than the story teller has a limited point of view. However, if the story teller's knowledge extends to the internal states of all the characters, then the storyteller has an omniscient point of view.

In John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums," the story is told from the limited third person narrator; this narrator reports the actions of the characters, but he cannot discern their thoughts or their motivations.  This perspective helps to establish the mood of the story by recreating the situation of Elisa and Henry, who hear each other's words, but having to guess at their meanings.  The reader must determine what happens; for instance, when the tinker praises the beauty of the flowers that Elisa is caring for, the reader, like Elisa, must discover that the tinker has been insincere and merely trying to win her over to a sale.  Then, later, when Henry admires how Elisa looks, and he tries to find the words that will please her, the reader shares her frustration at not knowing what Henry thinks.  Thus, the reader is more greatly drawn in to the narrative.  Yet, because the limited point of view does not reveal Elisa's inner thoughts, there is a certain mystery that is established in the story.  When, for instance, Elisa bathes and looks at herself in the mirror, and she sits on the porch "unmoving for a long time," the narrator does not explain these emotional moments and readers are left to draw their own interpretations.  This inscrutability may be just what Steinbeck wishes to portray as his motifs of the alienation and aloneness of man are frequent in his works.

Regretfully, I cannot remark on the 4th story as the word limit has been reached. 

 

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 12, 2010 at 9:21 AM (Answer #3)

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First person narrative tells a story from a single point of view in which the narrator is a part of the story. The words "I" and "me" are used often in such a perspective. A first person narrator, as the previous post pointed out, is often more unreliable, since it is told from a single viewpoint. In third person narrative, the storyteller is not a specific character in the story; in omniscient narrative, the narrator retains a god-like observance of the action, telling the story from an all-seeing view. The omniscient narrator appears to be able to know what all the characters are thinking and can thus tell the story from a very wide perspective. In third person limited narrative, the narrator tells his tale from the viewpoint of a single character, rather than retaining the ability to detail the thought processes of the other characters.

Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" is told from a first person perspective, with Montressor as the narrator. It is an effective form of narration because it allows the reader to know the inner thoughts of the murderer told from his own point of view. Fortunato's own thoughts are unknown, and it gives the story a much more mysterious feel by maintaining this viewpoint.

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