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To what extent is Captain John Smith a reliable narrator?Why does he write from a...

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babyaj1821 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 15, 2010 at 12:17 PM via web

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To what extent is Captain John Smith a reliable narrator?

Why does he write from a third-person point of view? What does he accomplish by this?

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ecofan74 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted June 19, 2010 at 3:07 AM (Answer #1)

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In many of the early accounts of life in the New World, the reliability of the narrator often comes into question.  Much of this uncertainty stems from the largely Eurocentric perspective of the accounts, particularly as it relates to the clash of cultures between European settlers and the native inhabitants.  As such, much of what is written during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries treats the subject matter in a rather judgmental way, praising the "civilization" of the European settlers and denigrating the "savagery" of the native inhabitants.

John Smith's account of life in early Virginia, written in the early part of the seventeenth century, does not reflect the above tendency to a great extent; however, Smith appears to have been aware of the possibility that his relationship to the events could affect how he discusses them.  Being "too close" to the subject matter can affect the narrator's ability to strike a balance in the narrative.  One way Smith seeks to avoid this is to remove himself as much as possible from the narrative, deciding on third-person narration rather than the more common first-person format.  The third-person perspective gives Smith's account a greater air of legitimacy - as if he is merely an observer to the events described.

The question remains:  What does Smith accomplish with this narrative technique?  In using third-person, Smith's account appears more balanced to the reader.  Not only does Smith seem to remove himself from the events as much as possible, but he also manages to make the account more relatable to other accounts of the region from the same time.  While the account is that of Smith's own experience, it is an account that connects with other accounts of the period; it is not too personal an account.

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