The Power of Point of View

Response to Zachary Dawson’s Point-of-View Analysis of Ruth 4:1-6 – GARY YAMASAKI

Zach_Dawson_Picture-1In a recent post (Apr 9/2014), Zachary Dawson digs into the point-of-view dynamics of Ruth 4:1-6, and today’s post interacts with Dawson’s point-of-view analysis of this passage.

It is good how Dawson begins his treatment of 4:1-6 by addressing the point-of-view dynamics of the material preceding this passage, for the point-of-view crafting of one passage will often carry over into a following passage, thus impacting the dynamics of the following passage. However, Dawson’s discussion of the preceding material needs to go into more detail to be helpful. He makes the point that “the audience has been predisposed to empathize with Boaz.” However, his support for this contention is nothing more than a citation of Robert Hubbard’s treatment of this earlier material in his Ruth commentary (NICOT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 230), and a look at Hubbard reveals he actually speaks of audience “sympathy” for Boaz without appeal to any particular literary moves producing this sense. This general sense of sympathy is something quite different from the specific sense of “empathy” discussed in the Sep 25/2012 post as emerging out of point-of-view crafting establishing a particular character as a point-of-view character. A claim that the audience has been led to sense empathy for Boaz in the material preceding 4:1-6 would need to be supported by appeal to specific point-of-view moves in this material contributing toward establishing Boaz as point-of-view character.

On verse 1 of the passage itself, Dawson makes the astute spatial-plane observation that Boaz’s name is fronted, though it is probably reaching to assert that this move “positions the audience to converge with Boaz. . . .” If, by this, Dawson is contending this fronting of the subject, by itself, effects a merging between audience and character, his contention needs to be challenged, for it is unlikely just this single dynamic is sufficient to bring about such a merging. If, on the other hand, he is suggesting just that this move makes a contribution toward the audience coming to converge with Boaz, then he is certainly correct, for the fronting of a subject to a position preceding the verb is a point-of-view dynamic that does function to position the audience in proximity to that character, and such proximity does contribute toward the audience merging with the character. More clarity is needed here.

Dawson continues his look at verse 1 by examining point-of-view dynamics on the temporal plane, correctly pointing out that the pacing of the material of the first two clauses involves summary material, as the time it takes Boaz to walk to the gate in the story world exceeds the time it takes to narrate this event. Dawson notes that “minimal converging takes place” as a result of this point-of-view move, though it would probably be more accurate to say that no converging takes place, as summary material of this nature does not make any contribution toward a merging of audience with character and, in fact, actually works against such a merging.

Dawson makes a strong psychological-plane observation with his discussion of the lexeme “behold!” for this exclamatory particle can function to transport an audience into the head of a character to look out their eyes as they turn their head and see something. It should be noted that a “behold!” does not always have this effect, but Dawson is correct when he asserts that it does in this context.

He concludes his discussion of this lexeme by asserting, “the audience sees through Boaz’s eyes, and thus is merged with him.” With this statement, Dawson appears to be making the claim that a single, isolated instance of a “behold!” transporting the audience into the head of a character to look out their eyes effects a merging of audience with character, but I am not sure a “behold!” is capable, by itself, to accomplish this; as we have seen, this passage also includes a contribution toward this end in the fronting of Boaz’s name to a position preceding the verb, and Dawson’s later informational-plane observation that the audience is made to share the same information as that possessed by Boaz constitutes another such contribution. Clearly, the cumulative effect of all these point-of-view moves is a merging of the audience with Boaz, but would such a merging have been effected with just the single, isolated instance of a “behold?” Admittedly, it is a powerful point-of-view tool, but would that have been sufficient, by itself, to bring about a merging? This is an issue that requires further consideration.

Continuing on to the treatment of the extended dialogue in verses 3-6, Dawson is right in pointing out that this constitutes scene material in that the pace slows down to a point where narrative time is in stride with story time. The implication he draws from this point-of-view dynamic is that it “causes the audience to converge with the point of view character.” What Dawson contends here goes beyond what has been suggested to this point in the research about the effect of the use of scene material on the point-of-view dynamics of a passage. Unfortunately, Dawson does not develop a case in support of his contention, making it difficult to assess the veracity of this claim.

To conclude, Dawson has offered a number of insightful observations on the point-of-view crafting of Ruth 4:1-6. However, he also makes some contentions that raise questions on the functioning of specific point-of-view moves. I look forward to dialoguing further with him on these matters.

NOTE: Dawson also brings Systemic Functional Linguistic genre theory to bear on the task of analyzing point of view in biblical narrative, but because this is an area of study with which I am unfamiliar, I will leave it someone conversant in SFL to address those parts of his post.

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