Definition of Narrator

The word/term, narrator, is derived from the Latin term, narrator, which typically means a person who narrates or relates facts, or events, etc. In other words, the narrator could be a historian, an observer, or an active participant in the events. In grammar, it is a noun of narrating. In literary terms, it is a person who tells a story from his or her point of view. Thus, could be several types of narrators in literature.

Types of Narrators

There are various types of narrators, such as,

  1. First-person narrator – an active or a full participant of the story.
  2. Second person narrator – the protagonist or the main characters are addressed by pronouns like ‘You’.
  3. Third person or omniscient narrator – not a participant or a character in a story.
  4. Protagonist narrator – a character who has his/her own opinions, feelings, and thoughts and can be written in first-person POV and third-person POV.
  5. Primary narrator – someone who addresses the viewer and readers directly.
  6. Secondary narrator – a technique used to involve readers in a story.
  7. Detached observer – a character who is not involved in the story and has no interest in the characters mentioned.
  8. Unreliable narrator – child or immature characters whose narration doesn’t possess credibility.
  9. Commentator – one who gives his comments or opinions as the story unfolds and points out the interesting events.
  10. Interviewer – a person who generates a story by asking questions and interviewing other characters.
  11. Secret observer – can be the main character narrating a story in first-person POV but may or may not be a participant in a story.

In fact, the category or the type of narrator depends entirely on the author. If he wants to enter the narrative himself, he becomes its narrator. Otherwise, he uses different types of narrators to convey his message to the readers to ensure reliability and win trust.

Examples of Narrator in Literature

Example #1

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

In this crisis, however, she is saved by Marija Berczynskas, whom the muses suddenly visit. Marija is fond of a song, a song of lovers’ parting; she wishes to hear it, and, as the musicians do not know it, she has risen, and is proceeding to teach them. Marija is short, but powerful in build. She works in a canning factory, and all day long she handles cans of beef that weigh fourteen pounds. She has a broad Slavic face, with prominent red cheeks. When she opens her mouth, it is tragical, but you cannot help thinking of a horse.

This passage from The Jungle shows that the narrator of this novel is a detached observer. Although he is not present and not the third person, it shows that the person who is describing this entire detail of Marija and her condition is somewhere sitting in the ivory tower, looking at the characters. This is a third person omniscient narrator.

Example #2

The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Rody Kickham was a decent fellow but Nasty Roche was a stink. Rody Kickham had greaves in his number and a hamper in the refectory. Nasty Roche had big hands. He called the Friday pudding dog-in-the-blanket. And one day be had asked:
–What is your name?
Stephen had answered:
–Stephen Dedalus.
Then Nasty Roche had said:
–What kind of a name is that?
And when Stephen had not been able to answer Nasty Roche had asked:
–What is your father?

Although James Joyce has beautifully presented the character of Nasty Roche and Rody Kickham and the conversation between both of them yet he has not clearly presented his narrator. Therefore, this narrative shows that the narrator is an omniscient presenter, and he sees both characters from some safe place.

Example #3

Beloved by Toni Morrison

It became a way to feed her. Just as Denver discovered and relied on the delightful effect sweet things had on Beloved, Sethe learned the profound satisfaction Beloved got from storytelling. It amazed Sethe (as much as it pleased Beloved) because every mention of her past life hurt. Everything in it was painful or lost. She and Baby Suggs had agreed without saying so that it was unspeakable; to Denver’s inquiries Sethe gave short replies or rambling incomplete reveries. Even with Paul D, who had shared some of it and to whom she could talk with at least a measure of calm, the hurt was always there—like a tender place in the corner of her mouth that the bit left.

Although Toni Morison has presented several narrators in this novel, this passage has been presented in the voice of a third person narrator. The details about Beloved, Denver and Paul D have been presented with much clarity, which shows that the author himself seems to be the narrator. Despite this, it is not clarified who is the main narrator, for there is no third-person or first-person narrator. Therefore, he is some detached observe or an omniscient narrator.

Example #4

Night by Elie Wiesel

There are those who tell me that I survived in order to write this text. I am not convinced. I don’t know how I survived; I was weak, rather shy; I did nothing to save myself. A miracle? Certainly not. If heaven could or would perform a miracle for me, why not for others more deserving than myself? It was nothing more than chance. However, having survived, I needed to give some meaning to my survival. Was it to protect that meaning that I set to paper an experience in which nothing made any sense?

Written by Elie Wiesel, this novel is a beautiful example of a first person narrator. As the author himself went through these sufferings, his first-person narration lends credence to the events, the reason that his novel has become the world’s bestselling narrative of an event. His reliability could be estimated from the impact that the US Congress passed an act in his name.

Functions of Narrator

A narrator, disregarding the category, establishes the reputation of the author among his readers to become an icon of reliability or unreliability. It also defines the area in which the author holds specialization and command over the plot and story. The author invents a narrator to make his or her readers believe in his or her voice about their philosophy, message, or information. Therefore, the function of a narrator varies from one narrative to another narratives, depending on the purpose of a writer or author.


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