First-person narrative

First-person narrative

First-person narrative is a narrative mode in which a story is 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 Holmes stories. 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 Faulkner in "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 Pohl in "Man Plus", and more recently, Jeffrey Eugenides in his novel "The Virgin Suicides" and Joshua Ferris in "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 story presents 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 James discusses 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 ] [ [ "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".


* Françoise Barguillet, "Le Roman au XVIIIe siècle", Paris: PUF Littératures, 1981, ISBN 2130368557 ;
* Émile Benveniste, "Problèmes de linguistique générale", Paris: Gallimard, 1966, ISBN 2070293386 ;
* Belinda Cannone, "Narrations de la vie intérieure", Paris: Klincksieck, 1998, ISBN 2911285158 ;
* René Démoris, "Le Roman à la première personne : du classicisme aux lumières", Paris: A. Colin, 1975, ISBN 2600005250 ;
* Pierre Deshaies, "Le Paysan parvenu comme roman à la première personne", [s.l. : s.n.] , 1975 ;
* Béatrice Didier, "La Voix de Marianne. Essai sur Marivaux", Paris: Corti, 1987, ISBN 2714302297 ;
* Philippe Forest, "Le Roman, le je", Nantes: Pleins feux, 2001, ISBN 2912567831 ;
* R. A. Francis, "The Abbé Prévost’s first-person narrators", Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1993, ISBN 072940448X ;
* Jean-Luc Jaccard, "Manon Lescaut. Le Personnage-romancier", Paris: Nizet, 1975, ISBN 2707804509 ;
* Annick Jugan, "Les Variations du récit dans "La Vie de Marianne" de Marivaux", Paris: Klincksieck, 1978, ISBN 2252020881 ;
* Marie-Paule Laden, "Self-Imitation in the Eighteenth-Century Novel", Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1987, ISBN 0691067058 ;
* Georges May, "Le Dilemme du roman au XVIIIe siècle, 1715-1761", New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963 ;
* Ulla Musarra-Schrøder, "Le Roman-mémories moderne : pour une typologie du récit à la première personne, précédé d’un modèle narratologique et d’une étude du roman-mémoires traditionnel de Daniel Defoe à Gottfried Keller", Amsterdam: APA, Holland University Press, 1981, ISBN 9030212365 ;
* Vivienne Mylne, "The Eighteenth-Century French Novel, Techniques of illusion", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965, ISBN 0521238641 ;
* Valérie Raoul, "Le Journal fictif dans le roman français", Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1999, ISBN 2130496326 ;
* Michael Riffaterre, "Essais de stylistique structurale", Paris: Flammarion, 1992, ISBN 2082101681 ;
* Jean Rousset, "Forme et signification", Paris: Corti, 1962, ISBN 2714303560 ;
* Jean Rousset, "Narcisse romancier : essai sur la première personne dans le roman", Paris: J. Corti, 1986, ISBN 2714301398 ;
* English Showalter, Jr., "The Evolution of the French Novel (1641-1782)", Princeton, N. J. : Princeton University Press, 1972, ISBN 0691062293 ;
* Philip R. Stewart, "Imitation and Illusion in the French Memoir-Novel, 1700-1750. The Art of Make-Believe", New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1969, ISBN 0300011490 ;
* Jean Sgard, "L’Abbé Prévost : Labyrinthes de la mémoire", Paris: PUF, 1986, ISBN 2130392822 ;
* Loïc Thommeret, "La Mémoire créatrice. Essai sur l’écriture de soi au XVIIIe siècle", Paris: L'Harmattan, 2006, ISBN 9782296008267 ;
* Martin Turnell, "The Rise of the French novel", New York: New Directions, 1978, ISBN 0241101816 ;
* Ira O. Wade, "The Structure and Form of the French Enlightenment", Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1977, ISBN 0691052565 ;
* Ian Watt, "The Rise of the Novel", Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1965, ISBN 0520013174 ;
* Arnold L. Weinstein, "Fictions of the self, 1550-1800", Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1981, ISBN 0691064482 ;
* Agnes Jane Whitfield, "La Problématique de la narration dans le roman québécois à la première personne depuis 1960", Ottawa: The National Library of Canada, 1983, ISBN 0315083271.

ee also

* Point of View
* Second-person narrative
* Third-person narrative


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