The Power of Point of View

Using ‘John the Baptist’ as Test Subject for New Spatial-Plane Development – GARY YAMASAKI

images-3The Oct 4/2012 post set out “following” as a key dynamic related to the spatial plane of point of view. The function of this dynamic is relatively straightforward; if the readers are made to follow a particular character wherever he or she goes, it is only natural that they would come to adopt that character’s point of view, as they would be constantly seeing the world from the same physical vantage point as that of the character. In this post, I would like to put forth what I think is another way that a narrator can influence readers’ spatial positioning in a story world, and that is the controlling of the “degree of detail” supplied to the readers.

Consider the Matthean narrator’s handling of detail in his introduction of John the Baptist (Matt 3:1-4). This passage begins in the most general of terms, the narrator simply stating, “In those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (v. 1). This statement presents a figure, but gives no details as to his appearance. It also supplies the figure’s location, but in a way that provides the readers with no landmarks to narrow this locale to a particular area of the “wilderness of Judea.” The readers are here led to imagine the image of a lone figure standing far off in the wilderness, at such a distance that no details of his appearance are discernible.

Verse 2 provides content from his preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of God has drawn near.” Here, the readers begin to receive some details–actual words from John’s preaching–and this gives the readers the sense of drawing closer to this figure standing off in the wilderness, close enough to be able to hear what he is saying. Therefore, these few words of his preaching constitute details that change the readers’ spatial positioning in the story world.

After citing in verse 3 that John is a fulfillment of prophecy, the Matthean narrator continues, “John had a garment of camel hair and a leather belt around his waist” (v. 4a). Note that the details provided in this description draw the readers even closer to John. They are not told merely he had a garment of animal hair–which could be distinguished from a woven garment from a considerable distance–but rather, they are informed he is wearing a garment of camel hair–which could be distinguished from a garment made from some other animal’s hair only from a position in proximity to John. Similarly, the fact John was wearing a belt around his waist is a detail discernible from a considerable distance, but the fact he was wearing a belt made of leather is a detail requiring a much closer vantage point. All of this is to say that with the provision of the rather fine details supplied in verse 4a, the Matthean narrator continues the process of spatially moving the readers closer to John.

While the examination of “degree of detail” has not been a factor considered in the analysis of the spatial plane of point of view in biblical narrative texts, it seems to me it should be recognized as a helpful addition to spatial-plane analyses.

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