What are two examples of third person omniscient from "To Build a Fire"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Point of view is the vantage point from which the writer tells a story. In general, there are four types of point of view:

  1. first-person point of view,
  2. third-person limited - An unknown narrator tells the story, but focuses upon the thoughts and feeling on just one person.
  3. omniscient point of view - an "all-knowing person tells the story, usually employing third person pronouns.
  4. the objective point of view - A narrator who is totally impersonal and objective tells the story with no comment on any characters or events. The objective point of view is much like viewing the narrative through a camera lens.

The difference between third-person narrator and third-person omniscient is the fact that the omniscient (omni-=all; - scient=knowing) narrator is capable of knowing what characters think and why things are being said and/or happening, whereas the third person narrator is merely an objective narrator.

For example, third person narrator would observe, 

Tim threw the ball into home plate with what seemed like a vengeance.

The objective point of view would simply have this:

Tim threw the ball into home plate swiftly.

But, the omniscient narrator might note,

Because he wanted to prevent the runner from scoring the tying run, the third baseman threw the ball with swift, accurate vengeance.


Here are two examples of omniscient narrator from Jack London's Naturalistic story "To Build a Fire":

1. (As the man treks through the snow in seventy-five below temperatures and his thoughts are revealed), 

Once in a while the thought reiterated itself that it was very cold and that he had never experienced such cold.

2. (In this example, the man's thoughts are revealed):

He pulled the mitten on hurriedly and stood up. He was a bit frightened. He stamped up and down until the stinging returned into the feet. It certainly was cold, was his thought. That man from Sulfur Creek had spoken the truth when telling how cold it sometimes got in the country. And he laughed at him at the time! That showed one must not be too sure of things. There was no mistake about it, it was cold. 

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The man's dog also offers many good examples of omniscient third-person narration. Early in the story the narrator describes in detail what the big Alaskan husky is feeling, sensing, and wanting, although the narrator makes it clear that the dog is not capable of thinking like a human being.

The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for traveling....The dog did not know anything about thermometers. Possibly in its brain there was no sharp consciousness of a condition of very cold such as was in the man's brain. But the brute had its instinct. It experienced a vague but menacing apprehension that subdued it and made it slink along at the man's heels, and that made it question eagerly every unwonted movement of the man as if expecting him to go into camp or to seek shelter somewhere and build a fire.

The omniscient narrator can tell the reader: "The dog did not know anything about thermometers." Not only does the narrator say what the dog does know instinctively but also what the dog does not know. It also senses that the man intends to do it harm when it refuses to obey his commands to come to him. 

An excellent book focusing on points of view in story-telling is Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories. The editors, James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny have selected 44 short stories for the revised edition which are arranged to serve as examples of every possible point of view used in narration. The book is readily available in paperback.