An event is going to appear with a different perspective depending on the experiences of the person living it. Someone who is incredibly brave, worldly, and determined will deal with stress and fear a lot better than someone who has never left home. Depending on the narrate and point of view, readers will have a certain experience. This is entirely up to the writer.
The writing style an author chooses is going to be influenced by their narrator. For example, if the novel is told from a young child’s perspective, in the first person, then the language and syntax should reflect that.
Definition of Perspective
The perceptive of a literary work is the lens through which the story is told, and the reader experiences it. A certain novel or short story might have multiple perspectives. For example, it might start out with one narrator and then transition into several others. Or, a literary work might have one consistent narrator. Points of view and whether or not the narrator is omniscient are important features of this literary term. They can break the fourth wall and take on attributes of metafiction if the writer so chooses (meaning they acknowledge that they’re part of a novel).
Point of View or Perspective
While these two literary terms are quite similar and are sometimes used interchangeably, there are technically some differences. Perspective is the narrator’s attitudes towards events (or people, ideas, etc.). Point of view is the vantage point from which a story is told. There are a few different types of the latter. They are:
- First Person Point of View: the narrator tells a story about him or herself, using “I,” “me,” and “my.” For example, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and ‘The Colossus’ by Sylvia Plath.
- Second Person Point of View: the narrator tells a story about “you,” using second-person pronouns like “your.” For example, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and ‘Death’ by George Herbert.
- Third Person Point of View: the narrator tells a story about a variety of characters, using pronouns like “he,” “she,” and “they.” For example, ‘Eldorado‘ by Edgar Allan Poe and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Examples of Perspective in Literature
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This famous novel is written in the first person. It is told from the perceptive of Jean Finch, usually called by her nickname, Scout. She is the narrator and the protagonist, imparting the events of the story from the perspective of a young child. She’s six at the beginning of the novel, and over the two years it covers, she learns a great deal. This choice on Harper Lee’s part is an incredibly effective one. Her youthful perspective is unreliable, meaning that there are times the reader is going to question what she saw and thought. Here is a famous quote from the novel:
Then I saw the shadow. It was the shadow of a man with a hat on. At first, I thought it was a tree, but there was no wind blowing, and tree trunks never walked. The back porch was bathed in moonlight, and the shadow, crisp, and toast moved across the porch towards Jem.
In these lines, she’s thinking about Boo Radley, who she and her brother Jem have been taught to fear. She imagines seeing him in a shadow.
Break of Day in the Trenches by Isaac Rosenberg
This free verse poem was written in 1916. It is one long stanza, taking advantage of the stream of consciousness literary style. This means the narrator’s words, and therefore their perspective on events is not interrupted. It is one stream of thought, resembling one’s natural thought patterns. This can be one of the most honest ways to write and can reveal a great deal about a character. The poem delves deeply into the desolate feelings of alienation from the “other” that impacted soldiers in Word War I. Take a look at the final eight lines of the poem:
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver—what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe—
Just a little white with the dust.
In these lines, he explores the inner lives of the men fighting in the trenches. He mentions the rat again from previous lines, depicting it as an impartial judge of their situation. He wants to know if the rat is able to observe, and at least acknowledge, the “shirking iron and flame” that is continually filling and destroying the world. This narrator has a very personal and undeniably moving perspective on the events of WWI. When writing about war and other traumas, it is often the most effective tactic to use a first-person perspective like this one. It is even more impactful since the poet himself was in WWI and died fighting there at twenty-eight years old. The reader knows they can trust his depictions of trench warfare.
Read more Isaac Rosenberg poems.
Why Do Writers Use Perspective?
Writers use perspectives because they want to tell stories in certain ways. It is up to the author what kind of perspective they use, but it should have some bearing on the type of story they want to tell. Perspective is a complex part of literature, especially when eh wrier chooses a unique one, as the child narrator in Room by Emma Donoghue or Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. These unreliable narrators heighten the readers’ interest in the story but also cause them to question the events being relayed to them. The narrative perceptive they choose allows writers to craft stories in particular ways. Without a proper narrator, a writer might not convey this story in the way they wanted.
For example, if a writer wanted to create a terrifying horror novel, it’s likely going to work to their benefit to use a narrator who is right in the action and is experiencing the same fear the reader should be. If the writer chose a first-person narrator who doesn’t experience fear, they’re less likely to create an impactful novel.
Related Literary Terms
- Persona: an invented perspective that a writer uses. The point of view might be entirely different than their own.
- Pathos: an appeal made by the writer to the audience’s emotions in order to make them feel something.
- Realism: a literary movement that portrays everyday life exactly how it is.
- Audience: the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
- Confessional Poetry: a style of poetry that is personal, often making use of a first-person narrator. It is a branch of Postmodernism that emerged in the US in the 1950s.