When crafting these kinds of stories, the writer might be thinking about “you” as another character in the poem/novel. Perhaps the speaker addresses someone they know, describing their actions as if explaining what happened in the past or will happen in the future. Alternatively, the “you” in the story might refer broadly to the reader. This means that the reader immediately becomes part of the story.
Explore Second-Person Point of View
Definition and Explanation of the Second Person
The second-person perceptive involves using second-person pronouns and a more distant accounting of events than the first-person perspective allows for. This is the least common of the three narrative perspectives, but there are examples in poems, novels, and short stories to explore. The second-person pronouns are “you,” “your,” and “yours” and are usually used to speak directly to the reader and draw them into the story.
Why Do Writers Use Second Person Perspective?
Although it is rare to do so, writers sometimes use the second-person perspective in their novels, stories, or poems. It can bring the reader into the story and make them feel as though they are part of the action. That is, generally, the writer’s intention when using this narrative perspective. It can also allow the writer to distance the narrator and the character, “you,” in the story. Writers who choose this narrative perspective are likely looking for an unusual reading experience. That is certainly what a reader will get who embarks upon a book or poem of this nature. While there are some good reasons to write in the second-person perspective, it is quite challenging, especially over something as long as a novel.
Examples of the Second Person Perspective in Poems
Example #1 Adultery by Carol Ann Duffy
‘Adultery’ is a poem about deceit, loss, and sorrow. The speaker, a wife, directs the story of her own betrayal. She describes, through the second-person perspective, how her husband cheated on her. Here are a few lines from the text:
Paranoia for lunch; too much
to drink, as a hand on your thigh
tilts the restaurant. You know all about love,
don’t you. Turn on your beautiful eyes
for a stranger who’s dynamite in bed, again
and again; […]
Duffy’s speaker’s tone is accusatory throughout much of the text. She expresses her anger and disappointment clearly and emotionally.
Example #2 Death by George Herbert
‘Death’ is another example of a poem written partially in the second person. The “you” in this piece is not the reader but “death” itself. He calls death “thy” and “thou,” while desiring how his perspective on death has transformed. He used to think that “thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing, / Nothing but bones,” but by the end of the poem, he says that “For we do now behold thee gay and glad, / at Doomsday.”
Examples of the Second Person Perspective in Novels
Example #1 Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Bright Lights, Big City, was published in August of 1984 and followed a character’s time in New York City. The “character” is, of course, “you.” This is an incredibly unusual way to write a novel, and the author, Jay McInerney, received pushback when he tried to publish it. The narrator is a 24-year-old writer who works fora magazine as a fact-checker. The novel follows him briefly through New York City as the parties struggle with his marriage, and finally realizes that he never confronted his mother’s death. The use of the second-person perspective in this story means that the reader finds themselves in all of these same situations and has to conclude that the narrator does.
Example #2 The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus is a 2011 fantasy novel that uses a nonlinear narrative. This means that the story does not progress directly from beginning to middle, to end. There are various points of view, one of which is the second person. It is set in ahistorical victorian London in a fantastic wandering circus that’s only open at night, as the title suggests. The novel has become quite popular and well-regarded for Morgenstern’s mastery of various viewpoints and the compelling subject matter.
Example #3 Complicity by Iain Banks
Complicity is a 1993 novel by the Scottish author Iain Banks. There are two distinct parts of the novel, the part written from a journalist’s first-person perceptive and the parts written from a murder’s second person. It is also a wonderful example of an unreliable narrator. The second person scenes are especially disturbing and memorable.
Other Narrative Perspectives
The second person, as stated above, is the most unusual of the literary perspectives. It occurs when the narrator is addressing a specific person or the audience in general. Second person pronouns like “you” and “yours” are used. The most common narrative perspective is the first person, followed by the third person. The first-person perceptive occurs when the writer uses first-person pronouns like “I,” “my,” and “me.” The third-person narrative perspective includes a narrator who is at a variable distance from the action. They are, usually, not included in the action. The writer only uses third-person pronouns like “they,” “them,” “her,” and “him.” The second person narrative perceptive is most definitely the least commonly used. It
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 used to detail and explained 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.
- Watch: The first person vs. the Second person vs. the Third person
- Read: Death by George Herbert
- Read: Twelve of the Best Novels Written in Second Person Perspective
- Watch: How to Use the Second Person