Country of the Pointed Firs," by Sarah Orne Jewett, "The Awakening," by Kate Chopin and "My Antonia," by Willa Cather. Specifically, it will show the development of the complexity, or the straightforwardness, of the point-of-view. Point-of-view is often as difficult to pinpoint as the characters of great novels. Sometimes, the point-of-view in a novel can shift and change, but the bottom line is -- point-of-view is a compelling way to keep the reader interested in the story, while telling more about the characters. Thus, point-of-view is a central part of the telling of a tale, and that is one of the most important techniques a writer can use to get their point across to the reader.
Point-of-View in Three Works
Point-of-view is one of the devices used to make or break a novel, and these three pieces all use point-of-view effectively and quite differently to set the stage, tell the story, and keep the reader interested in the novel. Each of these works would be quite a different story if the author had chosen another point-of-view, and that is part of the reason each of these novels are both compelling and enduring.
In "The Country of the Painted Firs," the narrator relates the tale in a first person narrative, but somewhat as if she is sitting back and watching the action as it takes place, because she makes comments about the action as it happens and as she takes part in it. Therefore, she has experienced the action, but is looking back on it, so her narrative is first-person, and yet blended with third person hindsight, which is quite unusual in a piece of literature.
It is clear Jewett wanted the narrator to attempt to share her experiences just as they happened, and so used the first person narrative to make the reader feel as if they are right there as the events take place. "We watched the boats drop their sails one by one in the cove as we drove along the high land. The old Bowden house stood, low-storied and broad-roofed, in its green fields as if it were a motherly brown hen waiting for the flock that came straying toward it from every direction" (Jewett 159). This narration is first person, because the narrator watched the events happen, but she writes from a distinctly far-away perspective, because she is no longer experiencing the events as they occurred. Her hindsight gives this work a beautiful natural descriptive quality that clearly indicates Jewett's love for the land and the natural world. This may be a work of fiction, but it is also clearly autobiographical, and that is what this mix of first and third person narration helps bring to the story.
Jewett's point-of-view might seem at first to be the simplest of the three, because this narrator is the simplest character of the three. Her thoughts and feelings are open, and so is the point-of-view, and the reader feels they know her, and her friends, by the end of the story, and she has come to know herself better, too, as this passage shows. "In the life of each of us, I said to myself, there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell to whatever age of history they may belong" (Jewett 132). However, this "simplicity" is deceptive. The narrator speaks as if events are happening today, and then shifts to a more third person type of retrospection, and so, the story clearly has already happened, but the narrator wants the reader to understand the main character recognizes the magic that has occurred during her time in Maine, and wants to share this magic with others.
In "The Awakening," the main character, Edna Pontellier, is as detached from her life as the narrator is from telling her story, which is one reason Chopin uses the third-person narrator to relate the story. Edna is an unhappy and unfulfilled woman, and as the narrator relates her tale, it is easy to see why. She spent her life walking the "daily treadmill" of Victorian life, and had no sense of herself as a woman, and so the reader must struggle to find a sense of her too, through the third person.
Another time she would have gone in at his request. She would, through habit, have yielded to his desire; not with any sense of submission or obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly, as we walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the life which has been portioned out to us (Chopin 35).
Chopin uses this detached third person narrator to also illustrate to the reader the changes that are occurring in Edna's life, changes that will eventually lead to her "awakening," and Chopin sets this up early in the story. "In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her" (Chopin 16). The third person narrator knows all and sees all, and so can give the reader deeper clues into Edna's metamorphosis.
If Edna told her own story, she might not have as much self-awareness, or be able to express it effectively, and so, the story would suffer, and so would the message. In addition, this third person narrator also knows all about the other characters, and there are some things clearly Edna would not know, and so this point-of-view is useful for showing the other characters' reactions to Edna, and each other, as this poignant passage clearly indicates. "Good-by -- because, I love you.' He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand. Perhaps Doctor Mandelet would have understood if she had seen him -- but it was too late; the shore was far behind her, and her strength was gone" (Chopin 128). Edna did not know enough about herself to describe herself, and this is part of the plot of the story -- Chopin wanted to show how Victorian women were so confined and unfulfilled and this third person, all-knowing narrator clearly serves this purpose perfectly. This third person narration is probably the simplest of the three works, yet the final story is as complex as any of the others, it just uses a detached point-of-view to detach the reader from Edna's world.
Willa Cather's "My Antonia" has a very interesting viewpoint, because it is quite different from most first person narratives. The first person narrator is telling a story, but it is not only his own story, he is recounting the story of Antonia, and so, he is part first person narrator, and third person narrator. He certainly has the ability to look back on events and make sense out of them, but he also has the ability to speak as if he is right there when they occurred. Cather's work has much in common with Jewett's, because they are both celebrations of the land and the natural world, and it is clear the narrator in "My Antonia" has a deep and abiding affection for the land where he grew up, as this passage illustrates.
As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running (Cather 15).
Cather's may be the most unusual, complex, and compelling of the three narrative voices, because it is deceivingly simple. Jim Burden, the narrator, is recounting his life growing up in the beautiful Nebraska countryside, but really, his story is a wistful and melancholy remembrance of Antonia -- his neighbor, his friend, and a reminder of the happier times of youth. Therefore, Jim is a first person narrator telling his own story, but in a sense, he is also telling Antonia's story, as this passage indicates.
The little girl was pretty, but An-tonia -- they accented the name thus, strongly, when they spoke to her -- was still prettier. I remembered what the conductor had said about her eyes. They were big and warm and full of light, like the sun shining on brown pools in the wood. Her skin was brown, too, and in her cheeks she had a glow of rich, dark colour. Her brown hair was curly and wild-looking (Cather 23).
In addition, Jim's story also shifts from first person to third person. He recounts his own story in the first person, but tells Antonia's from the third person, and so, even though she does not appear that often in the story, she is central to the story, and the reader learns as much about her as about Jim, even though…