Almost everyone knows about first person and third person narratives in writing. Basically as humans we all see from the familiar, limited first person point of view that allows us only to know what goes on in our presence. Much traditional literature is written in the third person omniscient view point. Omniscient in this case is not really all-knowing, but refers to multiple limited viewpoints. The author follows various characters as they interact in the story and informs us not only what is going on around them, but what they are thinking and feeling, too.
So what happened to the second person narrative? The one written from the “you” viewpoint? Although we frequently use this construction in informally, it almost sounds insulting in other forms of writing. Imagine reading:
You walked slowly towards the front of the school, clutching your backpack in your hand. You scan the entry way for any sign of Derrick and his gang and notice one of his minions loitering around the trash cans. So you sidle around the side of the building to the cafeteria doors just to be safe. You start knocking on the cold glass door, hoping one of the few lingering students would let you in. In your gut you know you are a coward, and wonder how long you can keep avoiding him.
We tend to take the second person “you” personally. In which case reading about a fearful character from that viewpoint might not click, because you would not behave in that way.
However, it has been done, both in poetry, short fiction and novel form. The most notable novel is Bright Lights, Big City by the American Jay McInerney which appeared in 1984. The unnamed main character (referred to as you) is tired of entanglement in the New York City rat race of the 1980s and is trying to escape the hectic pace of life in the fast lane. Maybe there was a lot of people with that same dilemma.
Another attempt to break the mold of tradition point of view narratives is the “absent” third person narrator, who sees and relates all details, but reveals no interior thoughts. In the novel La Jalousie by French author Alain Robbe-Grillet, the reader sees and hears all events from the position of an unnamed narrator watching the interactions of a woman with her neighbor, Franck. However, as these minutely described events continue the reader becomes aware that every element is from the observation of the jealous husband, who seems like a mere shadow, spying on his wife. The situations he sees appear concrete and objective but may be his suspicions rather than observations – one cannot tell.
So what new spin on point of view will you dream up?
Photo by S.L. Listman