How would the impact of "The Scarlet Ibis" change if the story were told from a 3rd person point of view?

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If third person narration was used, we would likely have a more distant but more reliable narrator.

Currently, “The Scarlet Ibis” uses a first person narrator who is both very personal and very emotional.  However, although the narrator is close to us because he uses the first person, we never know his name.  The emotional nature also makes him an unreliable narrator.

If the story were told from a third person narrator’s point of view, one of the main differences might be that we would know the narrator’s name.  As it is now, the first person narrator ensures that we know the narrator’s feelings but not his name.  A first person narrator is up close and personal with the reader, because this narrator uses “I” and “me” as if speaking directly to the reader.  It is as if the narrator is speaking directly to us.

It seemed so hopeless that it's a miracle I didn't give up. But all of us must have something to be proud of, and Doodle had become my something.

If the narrator had used third person instead of first person, it’s possible that we would not have been so close to the narrator.  Instead, narration would be using “he” and “his” and possibly a name to tell the story.  In this case, though, we might know the narrator’s name.

It is interesting that in a story where names feature so prominently, the main character is an unknown.  He is known only as the brother.  We know Doodle’s name, and his nickname.

Daddy had the carpenter build a little coffin, and when he was three months old, Mama and Daddy named him William Armstrong. Such a name sounds good only on a tombstone.

Yet we do not know the narrator’s name.  This adds to the intimacy of the storytelling.  If you are close enough to someone to talk to them in the first person, using “I” as the narrator does, you do not need to introduce yourself.

If the narrator introduced himself to the extent to name himself, and used the third person, we might have a more reliable narrator.  The concept of an unreliable narrator means that either the narrator does not tell us everything, or is incapable of telling us everything.  Since he is a young boy, this is what you would expect.  However, the distance of a third person narrator would allow an additional to help the young narrator.

For example, consider this incident when the narrator realizes that his brother is dead.

"Doodle, Doodle." There was no answer but the ropy rain. I began to weep, and the tear-blurred vision in red before me looked very familiar. 

As a first person narrator, the boy does not include much information.  It is possible that a third person narrator would include more and be more reliable, giving the reader details about how the boy felt and explaining not just his name but verifying his guilty conscience, that he felt responsible for his brother’s death.  It’s possible then that the story would be longer and more detailed with a third person narrator, including information beyond what the first person narrator felt willing or was able to include in the relatively brief story we are given.

There are benefits and limitations to a first person narrator.  A first-person story is more personal, but provides an unreliable narrator.  In the case of “The Scarlet Ibis” we find a story a bit too colored by a small boy’s emotions, and we also do not even know his name.  A third person narrator, on the other hand, gives us some distance and provides a more reliable and perhaps more mature and detailed perspective.

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jess1999's profile pic

jess1999 | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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In "The Scarlet Ibis," James Hurst chooses to not name the narrator, instead in his writing he uses first person. This technique makes the writing much more emotional. James Hurst wants us to feel like we're the brother, making the ending much more dramatic. It's like feeling we're the cause of Doodle's death.

If James Hurst decides to write this story in third person, then it would be less dramatic. Doodle wouldn't be "related" to us, we're not engaged into the story, and Doodle's death would be less sorrowful. For example "I ran as fast as I could, leaving him (Doodle) far behind with a wall of rain dividing us. Soon I could hear his voice no more." If James Hurst uses third person it would be, "He ran as fast as he could, leaving Doodle far behind with a wall of rain dividing them. Soon he could hear Doodle's voice no more." The different points of views changed the lines noticeably. From first person point of view, we were the ones in the scene, the third person point of view, we were the one viewing the scene.

Overall, James Hurst usage of first person definitely was the right choice.

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