The Power of Point of View

An Invitation to Dig Deeper into the Psychological Dynamics of Point of View

images-1by GARY YAMASAKI   A previous post introduced the psychological plane of point of view, that is, the plane in a narrative on which a storyteller works either to provide the readers with access to a character’s inner life or deny them such access, with the provision of access contributing toward the readers experiencing the action through the character’s point of view, and the denial of access resulting in their feeling distanced from the character. It is generally accepted that these dynamics are, for the most part, produced simply through the presence or absence of verba sentiendi, that is, verbs describing the inner workings of a character. An ample use of verbs expressing what a character is thinking or feeling cannot help but draw the readers inside the character’s head to experience the action from that vantage point, while a total absence of verbs of this type renders the character as something of an enigma, with the readers having no sense of what is driving the character’s actions.

While the basics of psychological-plane dynamics are clear, there are a number of issues pertaining to how these basics are put into practice that still need exploring. For example, is a single “inside view” into a character’s thoughts or feelings sufficient to establish for the readers a vantage point inside the character’s head, or could an inside view be provided in the service of some other narrative dynamic entirely, with no intention at all to influence the dynamics on the psychological plane of point of view? Further, if a single inside view is not sufficient to transport the readers into the head of a character, how many would it take to accomplish this task?

The total absence of inside views also raises questions. As mentioned, such an absence would seem to signal an intention that the readers be distanced from the character whose inner life is impenetrable. It should be noted, however, that while this may hold true for modern literature, it does not necessarily hold true for biblical narrative, simply because biblical narrative as a whole is much less revealing of characters’ inner lives than is most of modern literature. This being the case, one should not read too much into the total absence of inside views into a given biblical character. However, it should added that it is totally possible for a total absence of inside views to be a signal that the readers are to be distanced from a character, such as in a situation so emotionally charged that an absence of any indication of the character’s emotional response would stand out as noteworthy.

Another issue relates to whether a statement of what a character “sees” should be considered as much an inside view as a statement of what a character “thinks.” On the one hand, such a statement appears at first glance not to function to place readers inside the character’s head in the same way a statement of what the character is thinking does. On the other hand, does not a description of what a character is seeing constitute a foray into the character’s head to look out through his or her eyes? Therefore, would not  such a statement make a strong contribution toward establishing the readers in that interior vantage point? The same goes for a statement of what a character “hears,” for with a statement like this, are not the readers being made privy to information accessible only while inside the head of the character, that is, the auditory data registering in the character’s brain?

Actual studies of the psychological plane of point of view to date have tended simply to point out instances of the use of verba sentiendi in biblical narrative passages. However, before the analysis of inside views can become a truly significant factor in the analysis of point of view, issues such as those outlined above must be addressed. If you have insights related to any, or all, of these issues, please consider joining in the discourse by offering a post to this blog. (Simply use the “Contact” button on the main menu to connect with the site administrator.)

1 Response »


  1. Perspective Criticism in the Classroom – GARY YAMASAKI – PERSPECTIVE CRITICISM

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