- First-person narrative
First-person narrative is a
narrative modein which a storyis narrated by one character, who explicitly refers to him- or herself in the first person, that is, using words and phrases involving "I" (referred to as the first-person singular) and/or "we" (the first-person plural). This allows the reader or audience to see the point of view(including opinions, thoughts, and feelings) only of the narrator, and no other characters. In some stories, first-person narrators may refer to information they have heard from the other characters, in order to try to deliver a larger point of view.
The intensity of such confessional intimacy can be overwhelming. First-person narratives can appear in several forms: interior monologue, as in Dostoevsky's "
Notes from Underground"; dramatic monologue, as in Albert Camus' "The Fall"; or explicitly, as in Mark Twain's " The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
Since the narrator is within the story, he or she may not have knowledge of all the events. For this reason, first-person narrative is often used for
detective fiction, so that the reader and narrator uncover the case together. One traditional approach in this form of fiction is for the main detective's principal assistant, the "watson", to be the narrator: this derives from the character of Dr Watson in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmesstories. Narrators tell the story using "we", that is, no individual speaker is identified; the narrator is a member of a group that acts as a unit. The first-person-plural point of view occurs rarely but can be used effectively, sometimes as a means to increase the concentration on the character or characters the story is about. Examples: William Faulknerin " A Rose for Emily" (Faulkner was an avid experimenter in using unusual points of view - see his "Spotted Horses", told in third person plural), Frederik Pohlin " Man Plus", and more recently, Jeffrey Eugenidesin his novel " The Virgin Suicides" and Joshua Ferrisin " Then We Came To The End".
First-person narrators can also be multiple, as in Akutagawa's "
In a Grove" (the source for the movie "Rashomon") and Faulkner's novel " The Sound and the Fury". Each of these sources provides different accounts of the same event.
The first-person narrator may be the principal character or one who closely observes the principal character (see
Emily Brontë's " Wuthering Heights" or F. Scott Fitzgerald's " The Great Gatsby", each narrated by a minor character.). These can be distinguished as "first person major" or "first person minor" points of view.
First-person narrative can tend towards a stream of consciousness, as in
Marcel Proust's " In Search of Lost Time". The whole of the narrative can itself be presented as a false document, such as a diary, in which the narrator makes explicit reference to the fact that he is writing or telling a story. This is the case in Bram Stoker's Dracula. As a story unfolds, narrators may be more or less conscious of themselves as telling a story, and their reasons for telling it, and the audience that they believe they are addressing, also vary wildly. In extreme cases, a frame storypresents the narrator as a character in an outside story who begins to tell his own story.
First person narrators are often
unreliable narrators since a narrator might be impaired (as in " The Last Film of Emile Vico" by Thomas Gavin), lie (as in the " The Book of the New Sun" series by Gene Wolfe), or manipulate his or her own memories intentionally or not (as in " The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro). Henry Jamesdiscusses his concerns about "the romantic privilege of the 'first person'" in his preface to " The Ambassadors", calling it "the darkest abyss of romance." [cite book |last=Goetz |first=William R. |title=Henry James and the Darkest Abyss of Romance |year=1986 |publisher=Louisiana State University Press |location=Baton Rouge |isbn=0807112593 ] [ [http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=35807&pageno=11 "The Ambassadors" (p. 11) on Project Gutenberg] Accessed 17 March 2007]
One convoluted example of a multi-level narrative structure is
Joseph Conrad's novella " Heart of Darkness", which has a double framework: an unidentified 'I' narrator relates a boating trip during which another character, Marlow, tells in the first person the story that comprises the majority of the work. Even within this nested story, we are told that another character, Kurtz, told Marlow a lengthy story; we are not, however, directly told anything about its content. Thus we have an "I" narrator introducing a storyteller as "he" (Marlow), who talks about himself as "I" and introduces another storyteller as "he" (Kurtz), who in turn presumably told his story from the perspective of "I".
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* Point of View
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