Point of View and Tone in Narrative

Writers are always in the stories they tell, whether that presence is apparent or hidden. It is apparent in the first-person point of view—that is, a story told by an "I." The "I" may be the central character to whom things are happening. Or "I" may be an observer standing on the edge of the action and watching what happens to others, as de Monfried observes and reports the events at Malta but does not participate in them.

Even though a writer narrates a personal experience, however, the "I" who tells the tale is not truly identical with the author who writes it. The narrative "I" is a persona, more or less distinct from the author. Thus "I" may be made deliberately and comically trick humorous writers like James Thurber often employ—or "I" may be drawn smarter and braver than the author actually is. And in literary narrative "I" is likely to be even more remote from the writer, often a character in his own right like Huck Finn in Twain's great novel.

The other point of view avoids the "I." This is the third-person story, told in terms of "he," "she," "they." Here the writer seems to disappear, hidden completely behind his characters. We know an author exists because a story implies a storyteller. But that presence must be guessed; one never actually observes it.

Nonetheless the presence is there. Even if not explicitly seen as an "I," the writer exists as a voice, heard in the tone of the story. His words and sentence patterns imply a wide range of tones: irony, amusement, anger, horror, shock, disgust, delight, objective detachment.

Tone is essential to the meaning of a story. The tone of Hemingway's paragraph, for example, seems objective, detached, reportorial on the surface. He avoids suggesting emotion or judgment—words like "pitiful," "horrible," "cruel," "tragic." Instead, his diction denotes the simple physical realities of the scene: "wet dead leaves," "paving," "rain," "shutters," "wall," "puddle," "water," "head," "knees."

The absence of emotive words actually intensifies the horror of the scene. But the objectivity of Hemingway's style is more than rhetorical it is trick of increasing emotion by seeming to deny it. The tone also presents a moral stance: a tough-minded discipline in the face of anguish. Men die and men kill one another, and we must feel the horror, feel it deeply; but we must also accept its inevitability and stand up to it and not be overwhelmed by it.

Now all this is implied in Hemingway's is, in the tone of his prose. It is obviously a very important part of what he is saying. Thus style is not merely a way of conveying the meaning of a story; it is a part of meaning, sometimes the vital part.

PART

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Project Management Made Easy

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