I teach English 12 and am getting frustrated that my studentrs are remaining confused regarding identifying specific points of view in various literature. We work from old British Lit (Beowulf, Canterbury Tales) and some contemproary lit (Alice Munro, Graham Green) but throughout, we are noticing that they are confused by the limited and omniscient POV. Any suggestions???
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In addition to what post 5 suggests, find selections from a variety of books in different points of view and have students compare them. I have the students focus on pronouns first, and then the information given to them. You can also write a story as a class in each point of view. This is a very fun activity. You take the same basic story and change it to fit the point of view.
All of these are good suggestions. You might also try teaching your students that sometimes authors might switch it up a little in the same story. For example we might be getting third person limited with one of the main characters, but the author might tell us at some other point what another character is feeling and thinking. The Doris Lessing short story "Through the Tunnel" is a good case in point.
I find that excerpts from Marquez's A Hundred Years of Solitude serve as near-perfect illustrations of the omniscient POV. True omniscience implies a sweeping POV that has the ability to rise above the action and operate independent of the people in the novel; that is, it can operate without being situated in a particular character(s) head. HYoS contains many such passages, and has the added bonus of a narrative that moves freely through time. My students get a better understanding of the "god like" perspective once I've shown them these examples.
An excellent work for teaching point of view is the story "In a Grove," from Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa This deceptively simple story is told as the testimony of seven witnesses following the death of a Samurai who is on a journey with his wife. Each character has limited knowledge of the circumstances and is limited by his or her own perspective. I have used this story countless times to discuss many themes, but point of view is probably the major theme of the story.
I recommend that you ask the students to bring in samples of popular music lyrics (edited, of course, for appropriate language) and have small groups analyze the lyrics to determine the point of view each song is written from. The use of popular music will instantly engage the students. Applying literary analysis to material they are already familiar with will be easier for them to do than using unfamiliar texts that they may perceive as difficult.
The previous posts contain very effective ideas, and I just wanted to add one more element that has helped my students. I start with nonfiction (strangely enough) to review point of view. So, I choose a brief article with an uninvolved journalist (not participatory journalism like Jon Krakauer) and a related excerpt from a biography which includes interviews or primary sources from the subject to demonstrate the difference. The article shows my students what a 3rd person limited point of view should contain, and the excerpt illustrates a 3rd person omniscient point of view (if it involves the subject's motivations, internal struggles, etc.).
What I have found really helpful in teaching point of view is to actually get students to re-write bits of literature or stories or even film clips in different points of view. One time I showed a clip of a cartoon and gave each of my students in small groups a task - one had to write it from 1st person, one 3rd person limited based on one particular character, and then another as an omniscient narrator. Obviously we had discussed and looked at various short stories to help us identify each. At Grade 10 level I use "By the waters of Babylon" for 1st person and "The Cold Equations" for 3rd person limited. We then finished this examination of point of view by looking at fairy tales (written in omniscient on the whole) and getting students to rewrite them either in first person or 3rd person limited but focussing on a baddie. The results were great! Hope this helps...
I've compared the limited view to filming a movie scene. The camera will show what people do and will record what they say, but it won't communicate what they are thinking and feeling. We may infer their thoughts and feelings based upon what they say and do, but we won't know for sure because we haven't been told directly. With the limited view, the author stays outside the characters, just as a camera does, and tells us only what we would see and hear for ourselves if we were there.
I distinguish the two for my students this way. The primary difference between omniscient and limited omniscient points of view is the degree of knowledge the narrator has. If the narrator knows what all characters are thinking, then he or she is omniscient. This perspective is relatively rare is modern fiction because it isn't realistic; unless the narrator is a mind-reader, it's unlikely he or she can tell the reader what everyone is thinking. The narrator can reveal--or can choose to reveal--what some characters are thinking, but unless we know everyone's thoughts, the narrator has limited omniscience.
Have you tried prompting them with questions such as, "What does this character know, and what remains a mystery?" For instance, in the Canterbury Tales there are many examples. Take The Pardoner's Tale--what does the youngest man know when he leaves to get refreshments for himself and his friends? What do the two who stay behind know? What don't they know?
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