"Burr" is an iconic novel by author Gore Vidal that focuses on the true history of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. The story is told from the point of view of a young Charles Schuyler, a twenty-five-year-old man who served as a law clerk in Aaron Burr's office. Burr was the third Vice President of the United States, serving alongside President Thomas Jefferson during his first term. The decision to tell the story of "Burr" from young Schuyler's point of view is an interesting one, as Vidal uses Schuyler's youthful naïveté and optimism to shine a light on the more scandalous aspects of Burr's service.
Through Schuyler's eyes, the reader is able to see Burr as he really was, a figure surrounded by more controversy and moral dilemmas than his relatively sanitized portrayal in the average history textbook would suggest. The story begins in 1833 and tells of Schuyler's exploits as Burr's clerk, and ends four years after the former Vice President's death. Burr's perspective is made all the more intriguing by the fact that he hopes to abandon his life of politics to become a professional writer.
Schuyler is at first enamored with the sophisticated politician and envies his worldly qualities. As "Burr" continues, his naïveté is shattered and be begins to realize that the man does not fully live up to his public reputation. Through a variety of political schemes and vices, Schuyler is indoctrinated into the world of political intrigue and the reader experiences it all through his first person perspective.
The use of first person point of view allows Vidal to inject a significant amount of humor and personality into the narration. Schuyler's voice is witty and full of enthusiasm, making "Burr" an engaging read from the first page. Observations about the other characters, such as "Shortly before midnight, July 1, 1883, Colonel Aaron Burr, aged seventy-seven, married Eliza Jumel, born Bowen fifty-eight years ago (more likely sixty-five, but remember: she is prone to litigation!)" offer humorous insights into the various ways in which their personal lives contradict the public images they project.
"Burr" is an excellent example of the use of first person point of view that lends personality to a narrative that might otherwise feel dry or forced if told from an impersonal third person point of view. Having Burr's story told from someone close to him also allows Vidal to delve into his exploits with greater honesty and sympathy than if he had written it from Burr's point of view or that of an omniscient narrator.