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What is a Third Person Omniscient Narrator?

Philippa Kirby, Katie Surber
  • Author
    Philippa Kirby

    Philippa Kirby has taught college-level ESL for over twelve years. She has a BA in English from Colby College, Waterville, ME, and an MA TESOL from American University, Washington, DC. She has also worked as a writer and editor for various educational publishing houses, focussing on K-12 subjects such as Social Studies and English.

  • Instructor
    Katie Surber

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

Explore third person omniscient narrators. Learn the third person omniscient definition, its purpose in literature, and read some third person omniscient examples. Updated: 11/19/2021

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What is an Omniscient Narrator?

An omniscient narrator can see every character's thoughts, feelings, and actions in a work of fiction. Because of this, this type of narrator is sometimes referred to as "the god narrator" or "god-like." Generally, the third-person omniscient narrator is dispassionate and shows no preference or favoritism for any characters within the story. However, the third person limited narratorpresents the point of view of just one character. This type of narration uses third-person pronouns (she/her, he/his, they/their) instead of the first person (I) in telling the story.

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Third Person Narrator Definition

The third-person narrator presents the point of view of just one character. It is the most popular form of narration in storytelling. This type of narration is also sometimes referred to as third person limited. It is characterized by using the third-person pronouns (she, he, they) in telling a story. The popularity of third-person narration comes from its ability to connect with the reader.

A writer can also choose to use the first or second-person point of view. While the third-person narrator is characterized by the use of she, he, and they in telling the story, the first-person point of view is told using I. This is an immediately engaging form of narration but limits the reader to understand the action of the story to that of the single character. This narrator may or may not be reliable. The reader is fully immersed in the narrator's world, but that world is entirely subjective, dependent on the viewpoint of the I narrator. The second person point of view uses the pronoun you and is often used in giving directions. It is rarely used as a narrative voice in fiction because it can become challenging to engage the reader with the constant repetition of you.

Third Person Omniscient Definition

The third person omniscient narrator can see everything. This narrator has no biases and can present the thoughts, feelings, and actions of multiple characters. The third-person omniscient narrator can also provide context and details in a story for all the characters, rather than for just one.

Why Use a Third Person Omniscient Narrator?

There are several advantages to using a third-person omniscient narrator.

Writers who use this narrator:

  • can move between several main characters, thus supplying multiple points of view
  • create a more complex and fully-realized world for readers by stepping outside the characters' worlds
  • can span many years since they are not limited to the experiences of one character
  • have the freedom to develop their own voice, separate from the voices of their characters

There are a few disadvantages to writing with a third-person omniscient narrator. One is that it can build distance between readers and the story because readers' sympathies may become diluted among many different characters rather than focusing on just one character.

Third Person Omniscient Examples

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is written using the third person omniscient. The novel, published in 1813, tells the story of the Bennet family as the five daughters try to find suitable men to marry. However, the novel also examines a society in which young women of a certain class had no options for the future except marriage. Austen's use of third-person omniscient allows her to tell both stories simultaneously: the Bennet sisters' story and the story of the society in which they find themselves.

Young women of the Regency era.

Young women of the Regency era

"Not all that Mrs. Bennet, however, with the assistance of her five daughters, could ask on the subject, was sufficient to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley. They attacked him in various ways; with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but he eluded the skill of them all; and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour, Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. Sir William had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party."

In this extract, Austen's use of third-person omniscient begins with Mrs. Bennet, moves on to the daughters, cites Lady Lucas' information, and ends with Sir William.

In War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, the author tells a vast and sprawling story about five aristocratic Russian families during the Napoleonic era in early nineteenth-century Russia. It is considered a classic of western literature.

"Each visitor performed the ceremony of greeting this old aunt whom not one of them knew, not one of them wanted to know, and not one of them cared about; Anna Pavlovna observed these greetings with mournful and solemn interest and silent approval. The aunt spoke to each of them in the same words, about their health and her own, and the health of Her Majesty, "who, thank God, was better today." And each visitor, though politeness prevented his showing impatience, left the old woman with a sense of relief at having performed a vexatious duty and did not return to her the whole evening."

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of an omniscient point of view?

When writers use an omniscient point of view, they can present the life or experience of multiple characters. Authors can show the thoughts and feelings of several characters in the story. For example, a story can center around an event, and the author might relate the experience of the event from the point of view of several characters.

How do you know if a narrator is omniscient?

A narrator is omniscient if they can see several characters' feelings, thoughts, and motivations in a novel or story. This narrator can also describe scenes and events.

What is an example of third-person omniscient?

An example of third-person omniscient is a story in which the writer follows one particular character (using she or he) but also provides readers with the thoughts and feelings of others.

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