The Power of Point of View

Observing Impact of Linguistics on Point-of-View Crafting. . .with the help of a “Neanderthal”

Sears photo - 9 - croppedby GARY YAMASAKI   “. . .The bushes twitched again. . . .A head and a chest faced him, half-hidden. . . .The man turned sideways in the bushes and looked at Lok along his shoulder. A stick rose upright and there was a lump of bone in the middle. . . .Suddenly Lok understood that the man was holding the stick out to him but neither he nor Lok could reach across the river. . . .The stick began to grow shorter at both ends. Then it shot out to full length again. . . .”

This excerpt from William Golding’s The Inheritors (1955) may, at first glance, appear incomprehensible. . .at least until it is pointed out that Lok was a Neanderthal man and he was encountering a bow and arrow for the first time. He was looking across a river at a man “turned sideways. . .look(ing) at Lok along his shoulder” (the stance he would take while readying himself to shoot an arrow at Lok). Lok saw a stick rise upwards (that is, a bow being lifted into shooting position), and then, noticed the stick “began to grow shorter at both ends” (as the bow is drawn, making it appear shorter to someone directly in front of it). “Then it shot out to full length again” (as the tension on the bow is released, allowing it to return to its full height).

It is immediately apparent this crafting of the scene is intended to have the readers experience the events described from the point of view of the Lok character; the details reflect the perceptual perspective of this Neanderthal man. However, M.A.K. Halliday’s analysis of  Golding’s crafting of this passage uncovers a linguistic contribution toward this point-of-view end as well.

In his “Linguistic Function and Literary Style: An Inquiry into the Language of William Golding’s ‘The Inheritors’” in Essays in Modern Stylistics (Methuen, 1981), 325-60, Halliday notes that in the crafting of this scene, there is an almost total absence of transitive clauses, that is, clauses where a person is depicted as acting on an external object.

Note, for example, the clauses related to the bow:  “A stick rose upright”; “The stick began to grow shorter at both ends”; “it shot out to full length again.” What is happening to the bow is, of course, caused by the actions of the man across the river, and transitive clauses would have expressed this–for example, “The man lifted the stick upright”–and Halliday sees the avoidance of such clauses as significant. He suggests that Golding keeps transitive clauses to a minimum to create the impression of a world where “there is no cause and effect. More specifically: in this language, processes are seldom represented as resulting from an external cause” (348). And for Halliday, a world where people act, but do not act on things, no doubt reflects the experience of a Neanderthal man (345).

Halliday does not couch this discussion of transitivity in term of point of view, but his findings make clear the linguistic choice between transitive and intransitive clauses can have point-of-view implications. Unfortunately, the topic of how linguistics are significant to the crafting of point of view in biblical narratives has drawn little attention. It is hoped that the creation of this “point of view and LINGUISTICS” category may prove a catalyst for collaborative scholarship on this topic.

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