Point of View in Things Fall Apart

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  • 0:02 What Is Point of View?
  • 1:20 POV in 'Things Fall Apart'
  • 3:23 Third-Person Omniscient
  • 5:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Valerie Bugni

Valerie has taught secondary literature and composition for eleven years; she has a master's degree in sociology, and she has taught college sociology for seven years.

In this lesson, you will get a brief overview of the three types of narration used in novels as well as a detailed overview of the specific type used in 'Things Fall Apart.' We will advance your understanding of point of view by analyzing the author's use of third person narration, and how it furthers the mission of the book.

What Is Point of View?

Everyone loves a great story, especially when the story is told by an interesting narrator. Think about your circle of friends and family. Chances are you know someone who can turn a seemingly dull story into a masterpiece by using his or her pitch-perfect voice and captivating event sequences, or maybe you have a favorite literary writer whose well-selected narrators bring memorable stories to life. Authors use one of three points of view to tell their stories: first-person, second-person, and third-person.

We use first-person point of view when we tell stories that happened to us directly. Second-person point of view is used when addressing a person directly. Third-person point of view is the most complicated of the three types because the narrator tells the story from multiple vantage points, adding objective and sometimes intrusive commentary to the story. You can think of a third person narrator as an unnamed reporter outside of the story itself.

For example, in Things Fall Apart, the voice of the narrator is not a character in the story. Rather, it is an entity that reveals the inner thoughts and motivations of the characters in the novel. Now, let's examine the novel's point of view more closely.

POV in Things Fall Apart

In 1959, African writer Chinua Achebe released his novel titled Things Fall Apart. This fictional tale portrays the harsh reality of Nigeria's colonization orchestrated by European missionaries in the late 1880s. The novel begins when the reader meets a young Igbo warrior named Okonkwo. The story of the Igbo people unfolds as white missionaries visit the land and introduce the Igbo people to new ways of thinking about education, religion, and technology.

The story is told primarily through third-person omniscient narration, which means the narrator is not actually a character in the novel; rather, the narrator is an external voice who knows everything. Third-person omniscient point of view is easy to spot because it uses third-person pronouns such as he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, and them. Let's test this idea.

The opening lines of Things Fall Apart read,

'Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen, he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat.'

Do you see how the narrator is referring to Okonkwo in the third person using the third-person pronouns his and he? Now, let's rewrite the passage using first-person point of view, so you can see the difference. If Achebe had written the passage using first person point of view, he would have used the voice of Okonkwo directly like this:

'I was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. My fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen, I brought honor to my village by throwing Amalinze the Cat.'

Do you see how the third-person example reads like an outside observer telling the story, whereas the first-person example reads like an insider telling the story? So, why does Achebe use third-person point of view in Things Fall Apart?

Third-Person Omniscient

Third-person omniscient point of view allows multiple voices to be heard concurrently. Such a narrator can be in many places at once, and the narrator can comment and form judgments of the characters' actions and thoughts.

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