The author’s choice of narrator is influenced by their point of view or how they approach the story. The narrator might be telling the story about their past, about “your” past, about someone else’s past, etc. The narrator can be as complex as the broader details of the story. In many cases, the narrator is outside the story. They are not a character and are instead a God-like voice that, to some degree, knows information about all the characters (including their thoughts and feelings). You can explore the various points of views narrators can take below.
Explore the Narrator
The narrator is the person who tells the story. This could be the author, but in most cases, it is a persona.
The story could come from a first-person perspective, meaning that the narrator uses “I,” “me,” “my,” and so on. They might be telling their own story or be somewhat outside the main events and telling someone else, such as in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Nick Carraway is the main character, but the novel’s main events revolve around Daisy, Gatsby, and Tom.
Types of Narrators
- First Person: a literary style in which the narrator tells a story about him or herself. For example: ‘The Truth the Dead Know’ by Anne Sexton and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
- Second Person: a literary style in which the narrator tells a story about “you”. For example, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Complicity by Iain Banks. This is one of the least common types of narrators.
- Third Person: a literary style in which the narrator tells a story about a variety of characters. For example, ‘Eldorado’ by Edgar Allan Poe and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
- Third Person Objective: the narrator is a witness to a story. They don’t have any insight into character’s feelings or thoughts. For example: “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway.
- Third Person Subjective: a narrator who is telling a story with a bias. They reflect at least one, or sometimes more, character’s thoughts. For example, George R.R. Martin’s global narrator in A Song of Ice and Fire.
- Third Person Omniscient: a narrator who is all-seeing. They known everyone’s thoughts and feelings. For example, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” by Katherine Anne Porter.
- Unreliable Narrator: a specific type of narrator whose account of events can’t be trusted. For example, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
Examples of Narrators in Literature
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
In Lolita, readers can find an example of an unreliable first-person narrator. The character Humbert Humbert tells the story five years in the future from his prison cell, recounting what happened in the past. It is an incredibly controversial novel, one that many schools and organizations have at some point banned. Here is a quote from Lolita:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did.
Throughout Lolita, Humbert expresses the belief that Lolita, a child, seduced him and that she was in control of their relationship, as can be seen in the above quote. Despite this assertion, it’s clear from the beginning that he’s in the wrong. As an adult, he clearly has the upper hand. He continually deludes himself in order to hide his grievous misdeeds from himself.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Brontë’s most famous work, Jane Eyre, uses a first-person narrator. It is a coming-of-age story that was published in 1847. The book recounts the young narrator’s struggles and life lessons. Here is a quote from the book:
I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty. . . . You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity.
In this passage, Jane addresses her aunt before leaving their family home.
Read Charlotte Brontë’s poems.
Why are Narrators Important?
Narrators are essential because they are the voices that tell the stories readers are engaged with. They are used throughout all types of literature and in all genres. They can be found in poems, short stories, novels, and more.
Narrators can also be quite different depending on the author’s intentions. This is, in part, what makes one story different from another. A first-person narrator is going to be subjective. Their experiences are going to tint what the reader knows about a situation. This is often what makes reading enjoyable. The author makes their narrative choices based on the kind of story they want to tell; without these choices, there wouldn’t be stories at all.
Related Literary Terms
- Audience: the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
- Colloquial Diction: the use of informal words that represent a specific place or time.
- Characterization: a literary device that is used to detail and explains the aspects of a specifically crafted character in a novel, play, or poem.
- Prose: a written and spoken language form that does not use a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.
- Lyric Poem: a musically inclined, short verse that speaks on poignant and powerful emotions.
- Watch: All About Writing in First Person
- Watch: The first person vs. the Second person vs. the Third person
- Listen: What is a narrator?