The Power of Point of View

Who says, “You have to be objective”? Not biblical storytellers! – GARY YAMASAKI

The posts to this point have set out some of the basics of point-of-view analysis, but they have not addressed the “So what?” question. Sure, it may be that the point-of-view crafting of a certain text is leading the readers to view the action from this angle as opposed to that angle, but does this make any difference to our analysis of the text? While this issue has yet to be researched fully, there has been one difference discovered thus far, a difference you yourself have probably experienced while reading a novel or watching a movie or listening to an audiobook, without realizing the role point-of-view devices were playing in dictating your response to the characters involved.

At play here is the distinction between having an objective versus a subjective experience of a given character. An objective experience involves a sense of being kept at arm’s length from a character, a sense of being denied an intimate encounter with the character; to put it bluntly, the readers are kept from considering the character as anything more than a mere object. A subjective experience, on the other hand, involves a feeling of proximity to a character, not just a sense of being close by the character, but rather, a sense of actually merging with the character, of embodying him or her such that you share whatever experiences the character has. And whether readers have an objective, or a subjective, experience of a character can be dictated by point-of-view crafting.

But still, what difference does this “objective vs. subjective” distinction make to our analysis of a text? Literary critic Wayne Booth’s analysis of Jane Austen’s Emma in his Rhetoric of Fiction helps us here. Briefly, Emma is a young Victorian aristocrat whose persistent meddling has the potential of being ruinous to those around her, and this would ordinarily incline the readers to feel negatively toward her. However, Booth notes, the readers actually end up feeling positively inclined toward her, resulting in their pulling for her through it all. How are the readers’ evaluative tendencies overridden like this? Through point-of-view crafting. Specifically, Booth points out that Austen filters much of the action of the story line through Emma’s point of view, and the readers’ viewing all this action through her eyes—what we have been calling a “subjective experience” of a character—creates within them a sense of empathy for Emma, resulting in their feeling nothing but positive for her.

This insight has profound implications for the interpretation of biblical narratives, particularly ones relating situations where a character is involved in something questionable, but the biblical storyteller does not provide explicit guidance on how the readers are to evaluate the character’s actions. If, in a situation like this, an analysis of the point-of-view crafting of the passage reveals the readers are being led to have a subjective experience of the character, it can be concluded they are intended to empathize with the character, and thus, pull for the character, despite the dubious nature of his or her actions.

What this means is there has been a whole stratum of guidance by biblical storytellers that has remained untapped for centuries, evaluative guidance designed to lead readers to approve or disapprove of what they are encountering in biblical narratives. Perspective criticism is an excavation machine designed to mine that stratum.

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Categorised in: INTRODUCTION to point of view, point of view DYNAMICS

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