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First Person Narrator: Definition & Example

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Instructor
Katie Surber

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

Expert Contributor
Kaitlyn Danahy

Kate has a bachelor's degree in literature & creative writing from Gordon College. She taught high school literature, philosophy, and writing in India and has tutored for the same subjects in the US.

A story has a first person narrator when the thoughts and actions shared only come from one person. This point of view is characterized by words like I and we. Explore the definition and examples of the first person narrator in this lesson. Updated: 09/23/2021

First Person Narrator: Definition

First person narrative is a point of view (who is telling a story) where the story is narrated by one character at a time. This character may be speaking about him or herself or sharing events that he or she is experiencing. First person can be recognized by the use of I or we.

In first person, we only see the point of view of one character. While this character may share details about others in the story, we are only told what the speaker knows. An author may switch from character to character, but still use first person narrative. This way, we may learn about what other characters think and feel, but we are still limited in our knowledge because we must rely on what the character shares.

As a reader, we are not only limited by what the character shares, but what the character knows. He or she may not have all the information or knowledge about events. We would also not know what other characters are thinking. We also have to decide if the speaker is reliable with the information that he or she gives. An unreliable narrator is a character and storyteller that we cannot trust.

There are many different ways that an author may use first person narrator. There may be an interior monologue, an inner voice or stream of consciousness. There may be a dramatic monologue, a poetic form where a speaker reveals him or herself. There might be a plural first person perspective, where an author would represent a group. Finally, there might even be a peripheral narrator, a first person narrator that is not a main character.

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Examples of First Person Narrator

First person narrator is very common in literature. Anytime that an author has one character tell the story, first person narration is being used. It can be used in any genre of literature, but it is quite common in detective fiction, where a character is solving a mystery. We see the first person throughout one of the most famous detective stories: Sherlock Holmes. Other classic novels that have used first person are To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sun Also Rises, Catcher in the Rye, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Lolita. It can also be found in today's popular writing, such as the The Hunger Games trilogy.

An author who used interior monologue as a form of first person is William Faulkner. Faulkner often revealed more about his characters by allowing them to share a stream of consciousness. We also see this in Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale. We are able to learn more about the main speaker and some of her secrets when she starts to share.

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Additional Activities

Oh My, Me, I:

Choose a work of fiction that uses first person narration. This can be one of the stories mentioned in the lesson, such as Catcher in the Rye or The Hunger Games, or a different story entirely providing it is narrated in first person. Choose one of the following prompts and write a scene of 500 words.

From the Periphery:

Pick a peripheral character. They can be an important character, but should be one whose actions do not influence most of the main plot. For example, in Catcher in the Rye, you could write from Phoebe's perspective; in The Hunger Games, you could write from a viewer's, or Foxface's. Choose a scene from the novel and write their perspective on what is unfolding.

Unreliable:

Choose a character whom you think might be unreliable who is not the main character—for example, although Holden is an unreliable narrator in Catcher in the Rye, you could not choose him. Consider what you think makes them unreliable: antagonists, for example, usually do not think they are evil and may believe they have to do what they are doing. Pick a scene and write their perspective.

Tips:

When crafting your version of the scene, keep in mind:

  • what aspects of plot and other characters the character may not be aware of;
  • their past and motives;
  • their age—as a ten-year-old, Phoebe will not have your level of maturity or understanding.

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