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Second Person Point of View: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition
  • 1:14 In Literature
  • 2:55 In Nonfiction
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will define second person point of view and its main characteristics. We will then look at examples from literature and non-fiction writings. Finally, we will discuss why an author may decide to use this point of view.

Definition of Second Person

Second person is a point of view (how a story is told) where the narrator tells the story to another character using the word 'you.' The author could be talking to the audience, which we could tell by the use of 'you,' 'you're,' and 'your.' In fiction, second person is used as a narrative voice, a term used for the method in which a narrator describes the story. In nonfiction, we see second person in business and technical writing, process writing, self-help books, and even more interactive game playing writing.

An author may use second person when he/she wants to make the audience more active in the story or process. The author may use it to talk to the audience (as in self-help or process writing), or, when used in fiction, the author wants to make the audience feel as if they are a part of the story and action. When writing fiction in second person, the author is making the audience a character, implicating them. The author may even be employing second person as a thematic device, a way for a character to distance himself or herself from their own actions.

Second Person in Literature

Though not common in literature, we have seen second person in both classical and contemporary fiction. One example in current fiction is Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City. In the opening of his novel, McInerney writes, 'You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this in the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head.' By using this writing style, the audience is drawn in to the story immediately and becomes a part of the action.

Margaret Atwood uses second person in several of her writings, although it is used briefly. In one of her short stories, 'Happy Endings', she speaks to the audience, 'If you want a happy ending, try A.' Later she writes, 'If you think this is all bourgeois, make John a revolutionary and Mary a counterespionage agent and see how far that gets you. Remember, this is Canada. You'll end up with A...You'll have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it.'

Nathaniel Hawthorne and William Faulkner both used second person. In Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom, he speaks to the audience several times throughout the novel. In one section, he writes, 'But you were not listening, because you knew it already, had learned, absorbed it already without the medium of speech somehow from having been born and living beside it, with it, as children will and do.'

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