The Power of Point of View

Who Knew What When? Meir Sternberg’s “Informational Axis” and the Four Leprous Men of Samaria (2 Kgs 7:3-5)

four-lepers-bring-the-news-to-the-guards-at-the-gate-of-samaria_lby GARY YAMASAKI   With some narrative accounts in the Bible, you can’t help but view the events through the point of view of particular characters. You may not know why it is happening, but you can’t deny that it is happening. One such case is the account of the four leprous men of Samaria (2 Kgs 7:3-5).

So, the Arameans have been laying siege to the city of Samaria resulting in the residents of the city becoming desperate for food. The focus comes to rest on four leprous men outside the city gate as they contemplate their fate. They reason that going into the city will result in death, for food supplies have been depleted there, leaving desertion to the Arameans their only option with any possibility of survival.

Verse 5 depicts their getting up at dusk to go to the Arameans’ camp, and their coming to the edge of the camp. . .and discovering the camp vacated! Verse 6 goes on to explain that the Lord had earlier caused the Arameans to hear what they thought were Hittite and Egyptian forces mustering against them, causing them to flee.

In reading this passage, we experience what is happening through the point of view of these four men; they are clearly the point-of-view characters of the passage. But what, specifically, has brought this about? Back in this post, the point was made that one factor which can contribute toward the establishing of a particular character as a point-of-view character is the readers being led to follow him or her for a significant stretch of the narrative. In 2 Kgs 7:3-5, we are certainly led to follow these four leprous men; after all, there are no other characters on stage to draw our attention. However, there is no way a mere three verses can be considered a “significant” stretch of a narrative. Still, following characters for even a short stretch of a narrative can be a contributing factor toward their being established as point-of-view characters if supplemented by some other point-of-view move working to bring about that outcome. And the crafting of 2 Kgs 7:3-5 demonstrates a particularly potent one.

Literary critic Meir Sternberg (Poetics of Biblical Narrative) develops the concept of the informational axis of a narrative passage. This axis is used as a measuring stick for comparing the amount of information possessed by each of the characters, the narrator, and the readers. Though Sternberg himself does not discuss this concept in connection to the establishing of a point-of-view character, such a connection does exist.

Consider the case where the readers are provided with information a particular character does not possess. The readers, being higher up the informational axis than the character, will view the events of the story line in a different way than the character views them, that is, not through the character’s point of view. Compare that with the case where the readers are also deprived of the information the character does not possess. Now, the readers are at the same point as the character on the informational axis and, as a result, are forced to view the events with the same deficiencies the character has–in other words, through the character’s point of view.

Now, let’s turn back to the account of the four leprous men. During the events reported in verses 3-5a–their considering their options, starting out for the Aramean’s camp, and coming up to the edge of the camp–these characters lack a key piece of information, that the Lord had earlier caused the Arameans to flee. And note that the readers proceed through these verses also lacking this piece of information. The storyteller could have informed the readers of this fact at the outset of the account, but decided not to. In fact, the storyteller even went so far as to tell the events out of chronological order–reserving the report of the earlier flight of the Armaneans until after the report of the later discovery of the deserted camp–in order to keep this piece of information out of the readers’ hands. The result of this informational-axis move is that the information database of the readers is made to converge with the information database of the four men, and this results in the readers experiencing these events through the point of view of these characters.

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Categorised in: featured posts, point of view in BIBLICAL NARRATIVE

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