Point of View of Characters vs. the Reader

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  • 0:01 Point of View
  • 1:23 First Person Point of View
  • 2:09 Third Person Point of View
  • 3:23 Point of View in Literature
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Point of view is a key idea in literature. In this lesson, you'll learn several points of view that writers use and how those affect the reader. When you're finished, you can test your knowledge with a short quiz.

Point of View

Imagine this scene: a man in a ski mask bursts into a bank intent on robbing it. He walks to a bank teller, grabs his shirt and leans in close to whisper his demands. The teller nods and starts filling a bag with money. Now think about telling the story of this robbery. What if you were the desperate bank robber who knew that the gun being used is fake? How might the story sound different? What if you were the security guard, new to the job and eager to prove yourself? How might that change the story? What if you were watching the footage of the robbery from the security camera, or if you were the manager in the back room, startled by screams of terrified customers? The story will change dramatically depending on which person is telling it. The same thing applies to literature, since literature is just well-told stories. Let's take a closer look at the importance of story-telling perspective in literature.

First, let's learn the literary term for storytelling perspective. Point of view is the angle from which things are seen. One key to understanding literature on a more advanced level is examining how different points of view in a story mesh together or contrast with each other. Today, though, we're setting our sights on making sure you know the difference between the points of view of the characters and the point of view of the reader.

First Person Point of View

Sometimes the reader sees things from the same angle as the character. When a book is written in first person point of view, you're inside the head of the character. In those books, the point of view of the reader and the character is the same. What the character knows, the reader knows. What the character can see, the reader can see. Literature written in first person uses the pronoun 'I.' When writers use first person, they connect the reader strongly with a single character. If you go back to our example and tell the story from the perspective of the bank teller, you wouldn't learn all the details, such as the fake gun, but you would learn a lot about how the whole scene made the teller feel. First person is a tightly focused and narrow way to tell a story.

Third Person Point of View

At other times, the reader and the characters in a story have totally different points of view. In literature, third person point of view means the narrator uses pronouns like 'he' or 'she' to tell the story. Books written in third person give the reader more perspective than the characters. There are a couple of ways to do this. If you wanted to tell the story of the robbery but focus solely on the bank manager, you would use what's called third person limited, which means to limit your perspective to the thoughts and experiences of a single character without seeing the story through his eyes. When writers use third person limited they don't tell the story from the 'I' perspective; they use 'he' or 'she.' Compared to first person, this point of view is a little less narrow, but it's still focused on a single character's experience.

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