What is the difference between narrator and focalizer?

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The difference between “narrator” and “focalizer” is the difference between the character telling the story and the perspective through which the story is told.  Examples of “narrators” telling a story are innumerable, as every story has a narrator.  In the case of first-person narratives, the story is often told by its own protagonist.  A classic example of first-person narrative is J.D. Salenger’s The Catcher in the Rye, in which the story’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is telling the story (“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, an what my lousy childhood was like . . .”) In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the narrator is Nick Carroway, the story told through his voice.  A “focalizer” is not necessarily the narrator.  In Gatsby, Nick frequently tells the former’s story from Gatsby’s perspective, as in the pivotal chapter, Chapter Six, when Fitzgerald provides the titular character’s backstory.  Good examples of “focalization,” however, can be found in other genres.  In John LeCarre’s “Karla Trilogy,” he employs varying perspectives, utilizing both internal and external focalizers.  Take, for instance, the final volume in that trilogy, Smiley’s People.  In the climactic scene of this Cold War story, when British Intelligence operatives George Smiley and Peter Guillam are anxiously, desperately awaiting the Soviet spy chief they have blackmailed into defecting, knowing that their quarry may very well call their bluff, or that the Russian may attempt to defect but be shot in the process by the ubiquitous East German border guards, Le Carre presents scenes through the perspectives of both of these characters, as in the following passages:

“And if they shoot him? thought Guillam.  If they arrest him?  If they leave him – which they would surely like to, and had done before to others – bleeding to death, face downward in the bird walk not six feet from the halo?  Come, he thought, less certainly, willing his prayers into the black skyline of the East.  Come all the same.”

In that passage, LeCarre has shifted the perspective from that of his main protagonist, Smiley, to that of his junior assistant, Guillam.  In the next passage, LeCarre returns to telling his story through Smiley’s perspective:

“But Smiley in his imagination saw only the Vopo’s [the East German guards] searchlights converging on Karla as if he were a hare in the headlights, so dark against the snow; and Karla’s hopeless old man’s run before the bullets threw him like a rag doll over his own feet.”

Karla will, as the novel concludes, arrive safely on the other side of the checkpoint separating East from West Berlin.  Those quotes illuminate the varying perspectives through which the scene is described and felt.  LeCarre’s narrator is the basic unseen, unidentified voice – that of the author.

Every story has a narrator, whether it is that unseen character simply telling the story, or the first-person narrative in which the story is told directly through the voice of one of the novel’s characters but describing the actions of other characters.  The focalizer, though, is strictly that character through whose eyes we are viewing a particular scene.

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nicholasnjenga's profile pic

nicholasnjenga | eNotes Newbie

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A narrator is 'WHO SPEAKS' which is an accurate interpretation,the narrator tells the story and is the voice within which the  text which most ;if not all books have .Focalization is the one who sees things as they happen in the story

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keeks9889 | eNotes Newbie

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A narrator is a person who does the action of telling a story. Focalization is the  relationship between perspective and perception. Narration and Focalization can also be divided into two groups. Narrators can be homogenous ( narrator of A Tale of Two Cities ) or homogenuos (Catcher in the Rye) Basically, the difference between the two is the ability to see who speaks and who sees.  

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a0w | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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one who tells a story. In a work of fiction the narrator determines the story's point of view. If the narrator is a full participant in the story's action, the narrative is said to be in the first person. A story told by a narrator who is not a character in the story is a third-person narrative.

Focalizer is a person who  selection or restrict narrative information in relation to the experience and knowledge of the narrator, the characters or other, more hypothetical entities in the story world

“The focalizer is responsible for the operations that turn the fable into a story and the narrator for the ones that encode the story into the text

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