The Power of Point of View

Rejoinder to ‘How Perspective Criticism Actually Works (demonstrated by an SBL paper on the point-of-view crafting of Mary at the Tomb in John 20)’ – ROBERT TANNEHILL

MaryMandJesusIt is good to ask whether the different planes of point of view reinforce each other or limit each other, as Gary Yamasaki argues in the post entitled How Perspective Criticism Actually Works contrasting the spatial point of view of following with the psychological and informational. However, in doing this I think Yamasaki fails to recognize the power of the story for the (non-skeptical) reader.

Following a character can create interest and empathy, as Yamasaki agrees. In this episode, however, there is a distinct difference in informational database between Mary and the readers or audience. Mary does not know that Jesus has been raised nor that the supposed gardener is Jesus. As a result, readers have an ironical perspective on Mary.

In this case, however, I don’t think it results in a distancing or objective effect. Simple scenes like this one can be helpfully analyzed by asking what is the need or desire that impels action. In this case it is Mary’s desire to find Jesus. Is this something that most readers will sympathize with? I think so. The narrator not only encourages empathy with Mary by having us follow her but by structuring the story around a desire that has positive value in the narrative world. In this situation the ironical perspective (Mary’s limited knowledge) creates suspense, which creates interest and hope for a successful outcome. And there is a successful outcome. Mary does recognize Jesus. (In spite of Yamasaki’s comment about something lacking in v. 16. Her recognition of Jesus is confirmed in v. 18).

Mary’s weeping, whether or not it is technically an “inside” view, also can create sympathy. This is a standard sign of emotional distress and reinforces Mary’s need to find Jesus. In Yamasaki’s SBL presentation, he drew a parallel between Mary’s weeping and Scarlet’s in Gone With the Wind (DVD disc 2 at 35:58-36:02). But there was a distinct difference. Scarlet’s furtive glance (checking to see the effect of her tears) indicated that she was using tears as manipulation. That discredited her. There is no similar indication in the story of Mary.

Normal suggestions of empathy can be undermined by negative evaluation of characters or their projects in the narration. Here we are dealing with what Uspensky called ideological point of view and I call evaluative point of view. But the only negative here is Mary’s temporary ignorance, and that is overcome. She wants to find Jesus’ body; instead she finds the living Lord. This does not denigrate her but fulfills her desire at a higher level.


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

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