Games at Twilight

by Anita Desai

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What is the narrative point of view in "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai, and how does it influence your understanding of Ravi?

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In the short story "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai, the narrative point of view begins with third person omniscient and then changes to third person limited. Desai does this to first set the background of the hide and seek game and what it means to Ravi, and then zoom in on what Ravi goes through as he experiences the high and low points of childhood.

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Anita Desai's short story "Games at Twilight" is narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator. That is, it's narrated by someone who's not a character in the novel. It's narrated by someone outside the novel, someone who has the power to see and think what each character is seeing. Like a god-like figure, the narrator is all-knowing or omniscient.

The third-person omniscient narrator lets the story convey the feelings and thoughts of children without using language that's typically linked to children. If you ever read a children's or YA book narrated by the child or young person themselves (i.e., first-person narration), you might have noticed that their vocabulary tends to be relatively juvenile, childlike, underdeveloped, or limited.

In Desai's story, the third-person narrative technique lets Ravi be discussed with words that are typically reserved for allegedly more developed and mature people (i.e., adults). The reader sees how children can possess intricate feelings. Children, too, might have far-reaching attitudes about fear, vengeance, and domination. They can also reminisce on past experiences and memories. Think about Ravi's reflections on the time when he and his uncle went for chocolate.

You might argue that the third-person narration helps the reader understand Ravi less as a child and more as a developed, complex being. It allows the narrator to articulate his rich range of emotions and feelings with words that he himself might not know.

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The short story "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai takes place in India. A group of children are anxious to go outdoors, but the heat of the afternoon is still intense. When the mother lets them out on the veranda, they start a game of hide and seek. A boy named Raghu is chosen to be "it," and all the other children run away to hide. A boy named Ravi slips into a storage shed and hides out there until nightfall. When he comes out, the other children have forgotten him, and he is oppressed with the feeling of his own insignificance.

Desai tells this story using the third-person point of view; in this viewpoint, the author uses proper names and pronouns to refer to the various characters. However, she uses two variations of the third person viewpoint. She starts with third person omniscient, in which she not only details the action taking place, but she can also slip in and out of the thoughts of any of the characters. At a certain point, though, she switches to a third-person limited viewpoint, in which she focuses solely on Ravi and what he is thinking and going through.

The third-person omniscient viewpoint at the beginning sets the scene and the mood. You can think of it as a wide camera shot in a film as the director introduces a scene. Desai begins by describing the children as a group and what they are going through. This lasts until they decide upon the game of hide and seek. She then tells a short portion of the story from Raghu's viewpoint. He represents the aggressor, the predator from whom Ravi has to hide. For a moment, Desai also uses Manu's viewpoint. Manu is the first small boy caught by Raghu. Here, Desai wants to show the humiliation of one of Raghu's victims, which makes Ravi's successful escape all the more urgent.

Ravi is the main character in the story, though, so after Desai has established the background of the game, the aggressor, and the fate of the victim, she zooms in on Ravi's viewpoint and stays with it for the rest of the story. Her intention is to show the triumphs and disappointments of childhood. As Ravi sits in the frighteningly dark shed surrounded by imagined pests, he feels victory in that he has defeated Raghu, an older and stronger boy, in the hide-and-seek game. However, his triumph turns to tragedy when he emerges too late and discovers that he has been forgotten.

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As was mentioned in the previous post, the short story "Games at Twilight" is narrated in the third-person point of view. One can easily distinguish the difference between first- and third-person narration by examining the pronouns used throughout the story. First-person narration pronouns include I, me, my, us, and ours. In contrast, third-person narration pronouns include he, she, they, their, him, and her. Desai's second sentence distinguishes the third-person narrative point of view when she writes, "They had their tea, they had been washed and had their hair brushed..." Using the third-person point of view allows the reader to understand Ravi's emotions and feelings throughout various scenes. When Ravi initially hides in the dark shed, he is frightened, anxious, and worried. However, Ravi begins to feel elated when he thinks about the possibility of winning the game. After Ravi runs out of the shed to touch the "den," the reader grasps Ravi's feelings of disappointment and despair when the children do not acknowledge his victory. The third-person point of view allows the reader to understand Ravi's emotions, which change throughout the story.

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The narrative point of view for this story is always third person; however, the third person narrative voice does shift from a third person omniscient narration to a third person limited narration.  

The story begins in the omniscient point of view, and then the story shifts to the limited point of view a little bit after the game of hide-and-seek begins.  At that moment, the reader is taken into the limited perspective of Ravi. We only know what he knows and sees what he sees.  The shift allows readers to more closely experience Ravi's fears of Raghu and deep desires about winning the game and becoming a champion for a bit.  The narrative shift also lets readers really feel the crushing disappointment that Ravi experiences at the end of the story. 

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