Third person objective is a narrative point of view that uses the pronouns “he,” “she,” “they,” “them,” etc. The narrator does not, unlike the other third person perspectives, have any insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings.
This is the least common of the third person narrative perspectives due to the fact that it creates a very obvious separation between the characters’ and the reader. Far more common are third person omniscient in which the narrator can see into every character’s mind, and third person limited where they can see into one, or a few character’s minds.
Explore Third Person Objective
Third Person Objective Definition
The third-person objective point of view utilizes a narrator who can see and hear everything going on in a scene but has no insight into characters’ feelings or thoughts.
This is the most common third-person narrator (after third-person omniscient and limited). Sometimes, this narrative perspective is described as “fly on the wall.” Meaning, someone is outside the events of the story, narrating what’s going on, much as a fly on the wall would observe what’s going on in a room.
Examples of Third Person Objective
“Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
“Hills like White Elephants” is the best-known example of the third person objective point of view. Within this story, Hemingway uses “he,” “she,” and other third-person pronouns. But, his narrator has no insight into what the characters are thinking. They can only narrate what they would see and hear if they were present, watching the scene, with no knowledge of who the people were as well as no insight into what their words could mean. Here is a quote from the story:
The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid.
“What should we drink?” the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.
“It’s pretty hot,” the man said.
Hemingway has been praised for his skillful depiction of the relationship between the man and the woman. He only uses names like “the American” for the man and “Jig” for the woman. It’s unclear if the latter is the young woman’s name or just a nickname.
Most readers are able, despite the lack of details, to interpret the conversation the two are having as one about abortion. The man wants the woman to go through with the procedure but the woman is uncertain about it. Here is another quote that demonstrates third-person objective point of view:
And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.”
“I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it.”
“So have I,” said the girl. “And afterward they were all so happy.”
“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”
“And you really want to?
The woman is more concerned in these lines and those which follow, about the state of her relationship with the man. She wants everything to go back to normal and for the man to “love her.”
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is another well-known story that uses third-person objective. Through her use of this narrative style, Jackson allows mystery to be maintained throughout the entire story. It takes a long time for the reader to find out what the townspeople are up to and what the lottery represents. Here is a quote from the story:
Me. I guess,” a woman said, and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. “Wife draws for her husband. ” Mr. Summers said. “Don’t you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?” Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered.
While the narrator describes the townspeople and their expressions, they do not go deeper than that. Mr. Summers has an “expression of polite interest” but is that how he really feels? This is something that the reader has to figure out for themselves. Later on in the story, this passage is used:
Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone. ” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.
Mrs. Hutchinson was selected via the lottery process and in these last two paragraphs, is being stoned to death. The narrator uses words like “screamed” to describe Mrs. Hutchinson’s reaction but never goes into her mind to let readers know what’s she’s thinking, or what anyone else is thinking. This makes the characters in this story feel incredibly cold and distant. It also, as noted above, allows the reader to get to the last few lines of the story without knowing what the lottery entails.
When writing third-person objective, it’s important to write about a character without entering into their heads. Your narrator shouldn’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling. These things are expressed through descriptions of their facial expressions and actions.
A third person omniscient narrator knows what everyone is thinking and feeling in a story. A third person objective narrator doesn’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling.
It depends on the story and what the author wants to accomplish. If the story is about one person’s experiences, it’s likely going to be better to write in first person or in third person limited, focusing on that person’s thoughts only. But, if the story is about a group of people, third person omniscient is likely the better way to go.
Related Literary Terms
- First Person Point of View: a literary style in which the narrator tells a story about him or herself.
- Impressionism: stories dependent on a character’s subjective point of view. These stories are based around that character’s impressions of their experiences.
- Persona: an invented perspective that a writer uses. The point of view might be entirely different than their own.
- Point of View: what the speaker, narrator, or character can see from their perspective.
- Second Person Point of View: a literary style in which the narrator tells a story about “you”.
- Third Person Point of View: a literary style in which the narrator tells a story about a variety of characters.
- Read: “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
- Read: “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
- Read: Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Style