How do I analyse the narrative perspective?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To analyze narrative perspective you look for and identify the perspective from which the story is being told and the omniscience or limitedness of information known and conveyed. There are two possible perspectives from which to tell a story: from without the story and from withing the story. There several degrees of knowledge conveyed: only personal knowledge, knowledge of one or more characters, knowledge of all the characters. Let's elaborate on these.

If a story is told from a perspective that is without (outside of) the story, the narratorial voice is not a character in the story. The narratorial voice can be thought of as the voice of an oral story teller: someone who recounts a story that is devoid of their own personal involvement. If a story is told from within (inside of) the story, the narratorial voice is a character in the story. The narratorial voice can be thought of as belonging to a character who has a share of the action and conflict and resolution that comprises the story. This may be a central character and is often the main character or it may be a minor character who is a participant and observer--or maybe even just an observer.

When the story is told from a narratorial perspective without the story, the narrator may be fully omniscient and know the thoughts, feelings, motives, and emotions of every character and thus be able to reveal anything any character thinks or feels etc. On the other hand, this external type of narrator may be limited in perspective with knowledge of only one or a few of the characters thoughts, feelings etc. Other characters would be reported on based only on their words and actions and visible attitudes--things readily observable to the narrator.

When the story is told from a narratorial perspective from within the story, the narrator is limited to what they themselves feel or think or desire. In other words, the only thoughts, feelings, emotions, or motives they know are their own. They also know what they can observe of other character's actions, words, or visible attitudes. They also can know and report what other characters confide to the them of their own inner feelings, thoughts, or motives.

So to analyze the narratorial perspective, you look for the location within or without of the narrator and you identify the level of knowledge present. Then you can label the perspective as third person (without the story and using he, she, and it) with limited knowledge, which is called limited third person, or as third person with omniscient knowledge, which is called omniscient third person. Or you can label it as first person (within the story and using I, me, my, mine, we, us, etc as well as he and she etc) with limited knowledge, which is called first person.

missbc | Student

The narrative perspective determines by whom the story is actually told; most common are

a first person narrator, which means the narrator is also a character in the story who gives his or her view on what is happening. As a consequence, you don't always know how other characters think or feel.

a third person narrator, which means every character is referred to as 'he' or 'she' or 'they' The narrator is not a character in the story. Because of this, the narrator can give all the information he/she wishes to give.

To analyse the perspective you simply look how the story is told. If it is a first person narrator, you try to find out who this person is and whether you think this character is reliable or not.

Do you need these questions answered for a particular book or story?