Point of view influences how readers understand literature. In this lesson you'll learn how writers use point of view to create feelings as different as suspense and humor, and you'll be able to test your understanding with a short quiz at the end.
Point of View Creates Suspense
Imagine you're watching a scary movie: Wisconsin Weed-Whacker Massacre. There's a deranged lunatic in the house, and he's carrying a turbo-charged weed-whacker! While the main character, a cute teenage girl, was pouring a glass of milk in the kitchen, the audience sees the madman tiptoe up the stairs and slip into the hall closet. Minutes later our sweet teen star bops up to the second floor with her ear buds in, singing to herself. She reaches toward the closet door, but at the last minute decides what she wants is down the hall. When she turns away, the door creaks open, the prowler steps into the hallway behind her and revs up his trimmer.
If you were watching this scene in the movie theater, you'd feel that anxiety in your stomach, caused by suspense, 'a feeling of uncertainty about what will happen next'. The movie director creates the suspense by carefully manipulating point of view. Point of view is just the angle from which things are seen. We all have a point of view because we all see the world from a slightly different angle. The suspense comes when the director contrasts the point of view of the star of the movie, our unsuspecting teen girl, with the point of view of the maniac and that of the audience. She is blissfully listening to music and walking around the house, but the audience knows that she's in mortal danger. As an audience member you know something is about to happen, and you wish that the main character knew it too! The result is suspense.
The exact same thing can happen in literature. Take Poe's classic, 'The Tell-Tale Heart.' The main character has hidden a body under the floorboards of the house. Police show up because the neighbors heard some suspicious noises. The killer starts acting strange, agitated. The reader knows why; he's nervous about the police finding the body! The police are clueless, but as the murderer gets more nervous, you, as the reader, feel suspense. You know something is about to happen, and the two different points of view create that tension.
Point of View Creates Humor
This difference in point of view doesn't always make the reader feel tense. Sometimes it creates comedy! Imagine you've got this duke who's in love with a countess. Another woman, Viola, in order to get close to the duke, dresses up as a man and gets hired to be his servant. The duke, not knowing that Viola is really a woman, lets his guard down and tells her all kinds of embarrassing things. Comedy gold! Then the duke sends Viola over to the countess with some gifts, and guess how the countess reacts. She doesn't care for the duke at all, but she really likes this gorgeous young man who's his servant! More big laughs. This was the plot from a major motion picture, but it's also the central story in 'Twelfth Night' by William Shakespeare. The audience has one point of view; they know Viola is a woman dressed as a man, but the duke and countess are oblivious, and the result, since there's no danger involved, is humor.
Point of view, whether you're talking about stories or movies, is 'the angle from which things are seen'. Characters have their own points of view, and so does the audience. When characters come together with dramatically different points of view, either from each other or the audience, then the result can be humor or suspense. Suspense is 'a feeling of anxiety about something that's about to happen', and it comes from differing points of view mixed with a dangerous situation. Take away any hint of danger and add in the threat of embarrassment, and the differing points of view create humor. Either way, point of view is something that authors use to create an emotional reaction in their readers.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to interpret how point-of-view can create feelings of suspense or humor, depending on elements related to the characters or the audience.