A voice in literature is the form or a format through which narrators tell their stories. It is prominent when a writer places himself / herself into words and provides a sense the character is real person conveying a specific message the writer intends to convey. In simple words, it is an author’s individual writing style or point of view. When a writer engages personally with a topic, in fact, he imparts his personality to that piece of literature. This individual personality is different from other individual personalities, other writers put into their own works. Thus, voice is a unique personality of a literary work. Depending upon the type of work, authors may use a single voice, or multiple voices.
Types of Voice
There are many types of voices; however, it has two major types as given below.
- Author’s Voice – Author’s voice is his particular style he employs in that particular story of a piece of writing.
- Character’s Voice – A character’s voice is the voice of the main character how he views the world. It is a common narrative voice used with first and third person point of views, and author uses a conscious person as a narrator in the story.
Voice Examples in Literature
Stream of Consciousness Voice
Stream of consciousness is a narrative voice that comprises of thought process of the characters. James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, William Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying and The Sound and Fury, are modes of stream of consciousness narrative.
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is a very good example of a character’s voice, in which a character, Scout narrates the whole story. Though she is an adult, she tells her story from her childhood’s point of view. When she grows older, her language becomes more sophisticated. Scout uses first person narrative to create a realistic sense, as audience notices the child grows up. Her dialogue allows readers to hear the language of younger Scout. Also, it enables the readers to feel the voice of an adult in her actions as well thinking.
Edgar Allan Poe’ short story, The Tell-Tale Heart, is an example of first person unreliable narrative voice, which is significantly unknowledgeable, biased, childish and ignorant, who purposefully tries to deceive the readers. As the story proceeds, the readers notice the voice is unusual, characterized by starts and stops. The character directly talks to the readers, showing highly exaggerated and wrought style. It is obvious that effectiveness of this story relies on its style, voice and structure, which reveal the diseased state of mind of the narrator.
Epistolary narrative voice makes use of letters and documents to convey the message and reveal the story. It may use multiple persons’ voices, or there could be no narrator at all, as the author may have gathered different documents in a single place to shape a story. For instance, Mary Shelley in her novel, Frankenstein, employs epistolary form in which she uses a sequence of letters to express the voice of her narrator –a scientific explorer, Captain Robert Walton, who presents the story through his letters. He attempts to reach North Pole where he meets Victor Frankenstein, and then records his experiences and confessions.
Third-person, Subjective Voice
Third person narrative voice employs category of a third person point of view. In a third person subjective voice, a narrator describes feelings, thoughts and opinions of one or more characters. Hemingway’s novel, Old Man and the Sea, and George R.R Martin’s fantasy novel, A Song of Ice and Fire, present examples of third person point of view.
Third-person Objective Voice
In third person objective, a narrator narrates the story without showing character’s feelings and thoughts and gives unbiased and objective point of view. A typical example of this voice is Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants.
Function of Voice
While identifying the function of voice in literature, it is necessary to consider the narrator’s degree of objectivity, reliability and omniscience. Voice shows whose eyes readers see the narrative through that gives a personality to a literary piece. Moreover, a strong voice helps making every word count, sets up consistency and most importantly grabs the attention of the readers.