Definition of Perspective

While reading a fiction or non-fiction book, readers see and experience the events and feelings about the characters through a certain point of view, which is called a perspective. A perspective is a literary tool, which serves a lens through which readers observe other characters, events and happenings. A writer may narrate the story from his perspective, or from character’s perspective. Its purpose is to make the voice of a writer distinctive from other writers.

Types of Perspective

First person perspective

First person perspective means writing from the perspective of the author. Such types of perspectives are mostly found in narratives and autobiographical writings. In these writings, the main character narrates his/her story and uses first person “I” and “we.” The readers see everything through this person’s eyes. For instance,

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

(From Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird)

“I could not unlove him now, merely because I found that he had ceased to notice me.”

(From Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre)

“I cannot but conclude that the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.”

(From Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels)

In these examples, the authors have used first person personal pronouns to express themselves. This perspective shows inner feelings and thinking of the individuals.

Second Person Perspective

It uses “you” perspective or a writer tells the story by using second person personal pronouns like “you or your.”

You are a sculptor. You climb a great ladder; you pour grease all over a growing longleaf pine. Next, you build a hollow cylinder like a cofferdam around the entire pine, and grease its inside walls. You climb your ladder and spend the next week pouring wet plaster into the cofferdam… Now open the walls of the dam, split the plaster, saw down the tree, remove it, discard, and your intricate sculpture is ready: this is the shape of part of the air.”

(From Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

This expression is not very common in writing; however, here you can see how “you” perspective captures readers’ attention right from the beginning of the excerpt, giving an impression of a dialogue between the speaker and readers.

Third Person Perspective

The third person perspective uses “he, she, it and they.” It is a very common method of narration such as,

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

(From George Orwell’s 1984)

“He is just what a young man ought to be,” said she, “sensible, good humored, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! — so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!

(From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets.”

(From Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford)

In these instances, readers can only know what is happening but cannot know the feelings and thoughts of characters.

Third Person Perspective has three major types including:

  • Third Person Objective – An impersonal recorder or neutral observer narrates the facts or details to the readers.
  • Third Person Omniscient – In third person omniscient, a narrator reports the facts as well as interprets and relates the thoughts of a character. It is a very popular technique of storytelling, such as George Eliot’s Middle March and E.B White’s Charlotte’s Web are good examples of third person omniscient.
  • Third Person Limited – In this type of perspective, a narrator reports and interprets the facts and events from a single character’s perspective such as Katherine Mansfield has used the same perspective in her short story Miss Brill.

Function of Perspective

Perspective is the most important literary tool for writers. Choosing an effective perspective helps them find out a right voice for their narratives. When readers can identify with their narrators, they can get detailed information about everything. Perspective also adds dimension to the literary works. Furthermore, the writers often mix different viewpoints between alternating characters, scenes and events.

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