Definition of Omniscient
Omniscient is a literary technique of writing narrative in third person in which a narrator knows the feelings and thoughts of every character in the story. Through omniscient narrative, an author brings an entire world of his characters to life and moves from characters to characters, allowing different voices to interpret the events, and maintaining omniscient form — that is keeping a distance. Omniscient narrative tells the story of every character by demonstrating that only the narrator possesses information.
Types of Omniscient
Omniscient has basic types:
- Omniscient Points of View – When a narrator has knowledge about all the characters in a narrative, it is omniscient or all-knowing point of view.
- Limited Omniscient Points of View – In limited omniscient point of view, a narrator has limited knowledge of just one character, leaving other major or minor characters.
Omniscient Examples from Literature
The narrator in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, is an omniscient one, who scrutinizes the characters and narrates the story in a way that shows the readers that he has more knowledge about characters than they have knowledge about themselves. Though narrator is an omniscient one, however, he is also a subjective narrator, meaning the readers form their own opinions about the things that take place.
Dan Brown in his novel, Da Vinci Code, uses omniscient narrative and employs several characters to speak in front of the audience, demonstrating what each character thinks and sees. Also the narrator provides information about the background and related knowledge that characters are unaware of.
“Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt…Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression, which was seldom disturbed…”
(An excerpt from “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott)
Alcott uses an omniscient narrator, as we hear disembodied voice knowing everyone’s feelings and thoughts, exploring all characters from inside and outside. Here the narrator gives description about the March sisters.
“Harry had taken up his place at wizard school, where he and his scar were famous …but now the school year was over, and he was back with the Dursleys for the summer, back to being treated like a dog that had rolled in something smelly…The Dursleys hadn’t even remembered that today happened to be Harry’s twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn’t been high?”
(An Excerp from “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling)
Rowling employs omniscient limited narrator in which readers see what Harry observes, and know what he feels and thinks. They, however, are unable to follow what Dursleys feel or think about Harry, though can clearly see what Harry thinks and feels about them.
Another perfect example of omniscient limited is Katherine Anne Porter’s short story, The Jilting of Granny Weatherall. In this narrative, the readers follow the main character very closely. They only know about the feelings and thoughts of Granny Weatherall. Porter begins this novel by showing Granny lying sick on the bed. As the readers proceed, they her perspective.
Function of Omniscient
The purpose of using omniscient technique is to allow the audience to know everything about the characters. This is how they can get an insight into characters’ minds and create a bond with them. Readers also see and observe the responses of multiple characters that help them understand the plot of the narrative. It also allows the authors to make use of multiple voices in a story, as they express through a voice of a child, an adult man and a woman. Hence, by experiencing a narrative through multiple voices, the readers can look into the depths of the story. In addition, readers can have an objective interpretation of the characters and events, in contrast to more personal or subjective interpretations. Finally, an omniscient narrator allows for a better storytelling, as it involves multiple characters, and several plot lines with different interpretations of the same event. Thus, a story could be more interesting, when plot moves from character to character.