Just who is telling this story? In this lesson, we’ll look at point of view, or the perspective from which a work is told. We’ll review first person, second person and third person points of view.
Point of View
Everywhere I go, people ask me for my point of view. Wait, no, I mean: everywhere you go, people ask you for your point of view. Hmm, still not right. Everywhere they go, people are asked for their points of view.
Me, you, them – what’s it all about? Of course, I’m talking about those surveys that fill our inboxes and are at the ends of seemingly every receipt. I’m just buying a pack of gum; I’m not interested in answering 30 questions about the experience. I really don’t have a point of view on the matter.
But, even if I don’t have a point of view in terms of an opinion, there’s always a point of view in terms of how I write. This point of view can be defined as the perspective from which a work is written. There are three types of point of view: first person, second person and third person.
You’ll use different ones depending on what type of work it is, as well as what you’re trying to do with it. In this lesson, we’ll define each type of point of view, look at examples and cover the situations in which each is useful. There will be no survey at the end for you to complete. Or will there?
If you’re like me, it makes sense to start with me. I mean, why shouldn’t I be first? Okay, I’m not really talking about me. I’m talking about our first point of view: first person. This is when the narrator is referring to him or herself. You will see ‘I,’ ‘me,’ ‘my’ and ‘mine’ in first person.
Color Me Mine? First person. First person shooter games? Yep, first person (though kind of violent). The Beatles’ song I Me Mine? Super-duper first person. First person point of view can also involve ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘our.’ Really, as long as the narrator includes him or herself, it’s first person.
Many novels are written in the first person. For example, there’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Here’s the opening line: ‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.’ My, my, me, I’ve, my… this is clearly first person point of view. Same goes for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: ‘Call me Ishmael.’ Ishmael is our narrator, and he’s in the story talking about himself.
Other than fiction, when would you use first person? Anything autobiographical, like a memoir or personal essay; if it’s you writing about you, then first person is the way to go. I wouldn’t write about myself, ‘Jeff went on to win the unprecedented Nobel Prize, Super Bowl MVP and World Karaoke Championship trifecta.’ That would be weird.
First person point of view is rarely seen in academic writing. It’s considered less objective than third person, which we’ll discuss later.
But first, we need to talk about you; and by you, I mean second person point of view. This is when the reader is directly addressed with ‘you,’ ‘your’ and ‘yours.’
You don’t see this in many novels. It’s very strange in fiction. Here are the opening lines from one of the few examples, Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City: ‘You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.’ How do you feel being the main character? It’s strange, right?
You know where it’s less strange? How about this: ‘Listen, I have an idea. If you do not turn any pages, we will never get to the end of this book. And that is good, because there is a monster at the end of this book.’ That’s a very frightened muppet, Grover, using the second person point of view in The Monster at the End of This Book. Kids’ books often address the reader using second person. It’s useful if you’re telling someone how to do something – maybe it’s an advice column or a how-to guide.
Again, this isn’t a style you’ll see in academic writing. In fact, it’s really not seen very often.
You know what is common? Our final point of view: third person. This is where the narrator doesn’t refer to him or herself – as in first person – and isn’t addressing the reader – as in second person. Instead, you get an observer’s perspective and lots of ‘she,’ ‘he,’ ‘her,’ ‘his,’ ‘their’ and ‘theirs.’
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