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Illustrated Guide to Literary Elements

Narrator


Narrator Definition: The narrator is the character or speaker who tells the story to the reader.

Narrator
Narrator

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Narrator

A narrator tells the story to the reader, including important plot details like setting, mood, characterization, and conflict. The narrator can be the author, a character from outside of the story, or a character or persona they’ve created within the story. The narrator can use several points of view in which to tell the story such as first person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. First person narrators tell the story using “I” and “me”. Third person omniscient narrators tell the story using “he”, “she”, and “they”, and can access the thoughts of any character. Third person limited narrators use third person pronouns as well; however, they are typically limited to only being able to express the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Each point of view changes the reader’s access to the information coming from the characters, and may change the story completely, depending on important factors such as bias and experiences.

A narrator can also be unreliable or intrusive. An unreliable narrator’s descriptions of their experiences or events are usually colored or distorted by their own biases or emotions. An intrusive narrator continues to interrupt the story with personal commentary or opinions about characters and events. Both reliable and intrusive narrators usually occur in first person narrations. The narrator’s point of view often shapes the reader’s thoughts and attitudes about the story. For example, in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Pip tells the story of his rise and fall from fortune in first person, and by the end of the story, he admits his shame for his egotistical treatment of others along the way, which helps the readers feel empathy and forgiveness for his mistakes.

Narrator Examples

Holden Caulfield as first person narrator in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye allows the reader to experience Holden’s stream-of-consciousness descent into madness.


”The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” by Jon Scieszka tells the famous children’s tale from the point of view of the wolf. Rather than the wolf chasing the pigs in a hungry rage, he was simply searching for a cup of sugar, but he had a bad cold, too. His blowing down of houses was strictly reserved to his sneezing fits. This point of view completely changes the perspective of the story for the reader.


In 1984 by George Orwell, the third person limited narrator only tells the reader Winston Smith’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Because the reader and Winston are unaware of the thoughts and feelings of other characters, both are unprepared for the impending betrayals.


In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the narrator has the ability to access all of the characters’ thoughts and emotions as a third person omniscient narrator. The reader knows Hester’s quiet attitude of penance, Pearl’s curiosity, Reverend Dimmesdale’s guilt and shame, and Chillingworth’s patient revenge.


In Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, Conrad uses two narrators: the original narrator, and Marlow, who tells the the story of his trip up the Congo River to the narrator. By the end of the novel, Marlow has managed to shift the original narrator’s perspective towards a dark and foreboding feeling about the civilized world.


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