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Related: audience - fiction - narratology - narrative intrusive narrator - unreliable narrator


The Narrator is the entity within a story that tells the story to the reader. It is one of three entities responsible for story-telling of any kind. The others are the Author and the Reader (or Audience). The Author and the Reader both inhabit the real world. It is the Author's function to create the alternate world, people, and events within the story. It is the Reader's function to understand and interpret the story. The Narrator exists within the world of the story (and only there) and presents it in a way the Reader can comprehend.

The concept of the unreliable narrator (as opposed to Author) became more important with the rise of the novel in the 19th Century. Until the late 1800s, literary criticism as an academic exercise dealt solely with poetry (including epic poems like The Iliad and Paradise Lost, and poetic drama like Shakespeare). Most poems did not have a narrator distinct from the author. But novels, with their immersive fictional worlds, created a problem, especially when the narrator's views differed significantly from that of the author.

A good story must have a well-defined and consistent narrator. To this end there are several rules that govern the narrator. It exists in the world of the story, not in the world of the Reader or the Author. The narrator is a single entity with definite attributes and limitations. The narrator cannot communicate anything it does not encounter. In other words the narrator sees the story from the point it occupies within the fictional world. This is called point of view. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narration [Apr 2006]

Persona in literature

In the area of literature, the term persona is sometimes used in the criticism of poetry and fiction to refer to a "second self" created by the author and through whom the narrative is related. Importantly, attributes and attitudes associated with the persona are understood to be separate from authorial intentions, per se, though there may in acutal fact be some overlap between the two. For instance, in Dostoevsky's novel, Notes from Underground (generally considered to be the first existentialist novel), the narrator ought not to be conflated with Dostoevsky himself, despite the fact that Dostoevsky and his narrator may or may not have shared much in common. In this sense, the persona is basically a mouthpiece for a particular worldview. Another instance of this phenomenon can be found in Brett Easton Ellis' novel, American Psycho, the story of a sociopathic murderer living in New York City, who is a successful, if very troubled, Wall Street executive by day. The work is one of social satire, and as such may well reflect a good deal of authorial intention, but the persona of Patrick Bateman (the novel's first-person narrator) ought not to be conflated with the novel's author.

In both of the examples just given, the persona is an active participant in the story he is narrating it is his own story but this need not be the case. To take another example from Dostoevsky's work, the narrator of The Brothers Karamazov is not an active participant in the story, but nevertheless presents a clear perspective on the events concerned therein. In other words, the invisible and omniscient narrator of Dostoevsky's novel gives the reader the impression of taking a definite attitude toward the proceedings being related, albeit subtly so, and mainly by tone of description and idiosynchratic phrasing.

Finally, an intermediate instance might be Faulkner's short story, "A Rose for Emily," in which the events are related by a narrator who seems to stand in for the face of an entire town, conveying its attitudes and understanding of the events, and, as such, refers to itself throughout the story as "we".

To sum up, a persona can, broadly-speaking, be understood as the "organizing consciousness" of the narrative. This clearly differentiates it from any characters, even major and well-developed ones, who do not steer the reader's perspective in the way that a narrator might. However, in some cases, the question might arise: Why bother positing an organizing consciousness, understood on some level to be separate from the author's own, at all? Different schools of criticism will have differing answers to this question, and some the post-structural school, for instance, might take issue with the very notion of a single organizing consciousness but in general, the practice is adopted as a handy way of understanding the guiding principles of a work without treading too far into disputes about what a particular author was "really like" or "really thought about things" in his or her own personal life.

Charles Dickens and William Blake, for instance, were widely known to have progressive attitudes regarding the difficulties faced by the working classes in Victorian England and the effect of England's industrial revolution on contemporary life, respectively, and their attitudes were clearly reflected in their work. But other cases are not so clear-cut. Very little is known about the life of J. D. Salinger, but his books, in particular, The Catcher in the Rye, have achieved iconic status in modern Western literature. Furthermore, if the interpretation of a work is taken to be fundamentally the process of deciphering of an author's personal feelings about various subjects an attempt to understand the mens auctoris (mind of the author) then it might be argued that literary criticism thereby degenerates into a kind of pseudo-psychoanalysis, leaving little room for consideration of the works, themselves. Finally, and for similar reasons, the narrator-as-persona approach to literary interpretation allows for greater interpretive latitude, and thus arguably richer interpretive possibilities, than a more strictly authorially-centered approach might. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persona#The_Persona_in_literature [Apr 2006]

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