What is the point of view in literature?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Point of view defines how the reader will see the world of the literary work. The author establishes his point of view and manipulates the reader's attention. Literally,  point of view is the perspective from which the story is told. 

In short fiction. who tells the story and how it is told,  are crucial issues because the narration of the story can immensely alter the meaning  of the story. The point of view varies in each work. The narrator may be trustworthy or not; involved or uninvolved. The author decides how he wants the narrator to relate to the reader:

The narration controls the reader[s] by limiting what they can know at any given stage in the story, by taking them close or distancing them from the story, by showing them aspects of the story that may or may not skew their understanding, by manipulating them at every turn.

There are three common types of point of view that writers use.

First Person Point of View:

First person point of view uses the narrator to recount the story. The narrator usually does not participate in the story.  The reader must realize that what the narrator is recounting may or may not be the objective truth.

First Person Omniscient (all-knowing) Point of -View:

The narrator knows everything about all the characters: their thoughts and feelings.

First Person Limited Omniscient Point of View:

The narrator's knowledge is limited to one character, either major or minor, so he has a limited omniscient point of view.

In "The Cask of Amontillado," by Edgar Allan Poe limited omniscient person point of view is employed.  The main character conveys the incidents as he sees them.  He reveals his thoughts, feelings, and intentions. However, he is unable to see into the mind of the other major participant in the story.

Another example of first person story telling is Moby Dick told through the character of Ishmael. who speaks directly to the audience.  We know only what he feels and interprets about the other characters and events of the story.

Third Person Point of View: 

The author presents a third person looking in  on the story. He may be involved or just observing without conveying feelings.

Third Person Omniscient Point of View:

The author gives the thoughts of every character to the reader. The reader hears the author's voice not the characters' voices. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is Elizabeth Bennet's story. However, the narrator is not Elizabeth Bennet.The narrator is Jane Austen's clear voice conveying the thoughts and feelings of her main character.  "I"or "We" would only occur within quotations.

When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him.

"He is just what a young man ought to be,"said she, "sensible, good humored, lively, and I never saw such happy manners!--so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!"

"He is also handsome," replied Elizabeth, "which a young man ought likewise to be..."

Both characters through the dialogue provide understanding of an important issue in the story.

There are other less used points of view in story telling; however, first and third person points of view are the two most used. Understanding the point of view in the story will determine the reading enjoyment.  As the reader searches for the author's truth,  he will find that the point of view brings the story to life.