Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Definition of Third Person Limited
In third person limited the narrator only knows the thoughts and feelings of one character. All characters are described using pronouns, such as 'they', 'he', and 'she'. But, one character is closely followed throughout the story, and it is typically a main character. In other words, third person limited is much like when a video camera is placed over the shoulder of a character and the camera follows that person closely throughout a film. We stick with that person and are privy to his or her thoughts and feelings while still seeing everything and everyone around him or her in each scene.
Why Choose to Use Third Person Limited?
Third person limited point of view gives a writer more freedom than first person point of view. In first person point of view, the writer must use 'I' and every moment is seen through the character's eyes. Background information about other characters can't be shared unless the main character learns it firsthand, since everything is seen through his or her eyes. If a story is instead told in third person limited, a little more information can be shared since all of the characters are being discussed as if they are being looked down on by the reader, rather than seen through one character's eyes.
The most freeing point of view is third person omniscient because the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters can be shared through this god-like point of view. But, third person limited is sometimes a better choice since readers may tire of jumping from one character's perspective to another's, instead of staying with one character throughout the story. Third person limited can make the reader feel closer to a character because only one person's thoughts and feelings are shared, thus allowing the chance to build a bond between the reader and that character.
Examples of Third Person Limited
J.K. Rowling uses third person limited in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The reader witnesses what Harry sees and knows his thoughts and feelings, but without ever hearing first-person narration from Harry. Check out this excerpt:
'Harry had taken up his place at wizard school, where he and his scar were famous … but now the school year was over, and he was back with the Dursleys for the summer, back to being treated like a dog that had rolled in something smelly. The Dursleys hadn't even remembered that today happened to be Harry's twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn't been high…'
In this excerpt from the novel we are able to know how Harry Potter is feeling, what he's thinking, and what is happening. We follow him closely, unable to know what the Dursleys are thinking or feeling about having Harry with them for the summer. But, it is clear what Harry thinks and feels about them.
Another example is the short story 'The Jilting of Granny Weatherall' by Katherine Anne Porter. In this story, the reader closely follows the title character. We are only able to know what Granny Weatherall is thinking and feeling. The story begins with Granny sick in bed and getting checked by a doctor. Her perspective is, therefore, shaped by the fact that she is so sick she is confined to her bed. Read this excerpt to notice the use of third person limited point of view:
'She meant to wave goodbye, but it was too much trouble. Her eyes closed of themselves, it was like a dark curtain drawn around the bed. The pillow rose and floated under her, pleasant as a hammock in a light wind. She listened to the leaves rustling outside the window. No, somebody was swishing newspapers; no, Cornelia and Doctor Harry were whispering together. She leaped broad awake, thinking they whispered in her ear.'
By following Granny, the reader is able to realize how sick Granny actually is by the descriptions used. We realize that Cornelia and the doctor are whispering right when Granny realizes it since we are following her so closely. If this story were told in first person, it would probably be told by Granny, with changes such as 'I meant to wave goodbye, but it was too much trouble.' Alternatively, if it was told in third person omniscient, we would not only get to know Granny's thoughts but also Cornelia's and Doctor Harry's thoughts as well. But, because it is told in third person limited, we stay close to Granny, knowing what she's thinking and feeling as the story unfolds.
The narrator only knows the thoughts and feelings of one character in third person limited point of view. It is less personal than first person point of view because the reader is not right inside that person's mind seeing everything through his or her eyes. However, in third person limited, the reader feels closer to the character followed than if third person omniscient was used (the all-knowing, god-like perspective where the reader jumps from one character's mind to another's).
After this lesson, you'll be able to:
- Describe third person limited point of view
- Recall the advantages of this point of view
- Compare this point of view to first person and third person omniscient
- Identify examples of third person limited point of view
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