Topic 8 Discourse structure and point of view

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Topic 8 - Discourse structure and point of view

Discourse structure and point of view

Whenever two people talk with one another, at least two viewpoints are involved. They talk from, and express their own viewpoint and at the same time take the viewpoint of the person they are taking into account.

Task A - Point of view in conversation - ONLINE TASK

The discourse of coffee bar talk and poems

In the example we looked at in Task A, there is one level of discourse, which we could represent as follows (we use 'addresser' and 'addressee' rather than 'speaker' and 'listener' so that we can to take written communication (e.g. letters) into account, as well as speech):

Addresser 1
(Student A)


Addressee 1
(Student B)

The same discourse structure would appear to account for prototypical poems, like Wordsworth's 'Daffodils', which we played with in Topic 1. The poet, Wordsworth, appears to write directly to the reader, and so he is the addresser. There is no specific person that the poem is addressed to, and so by default the reader appears to be the addressee. There is a difference compared with our coffee bar example, however, in that the notion of an addressee has to be complex here. Many people read the poem, each of whom will take up the addressee position as they read it:

Addresser 1


Addressees 1, 2, 3

In this respect prototypical poems are more like lectures than one-to-one coffee bar conversations. In personal coffee bar chat the addresser has only to take the viewpoint of one other person into account (though even this kind of chat can be a bit more complex if others (so-called) are present in the conversation, as their viewpoint may need to be taken into account too). But lectures and poems (and websites!) have to be designed to take many unknown (or not well-known) addressees into account. This is why good lecturers are careful to define terms and repeat information in different ways - to help students with different amounts of background knowledge all to understand what is being said.

Task B - Viewpoint relations in reported speech

Now consider the following sentence (assuming the two-person coffee bar chat we assumed in Task A):

When I met Sharon yesterday she told me that her sister was ill.

How many levels of discourse this time? Who are the addressers and addressees? Compare your account with ours.

The prototypical 'doubled' discourse structure of drama

The one-level discoursal structure is typical of most poems, but the two-level discourse structure is more typical of drama. Playwrights write plays for audiences and readers, but they do not communicate directly with their addressees, as poets typically do. Instead, they communicate meanings indirectly to their audience by having their characters communicate with one another on stage. So the following diagram represents the discourse structure involved when one character says something to another character in a play:

Addresser 1


Addressee 1

Addresser 2
(Character A)


Addressee 2
(Character B)

Note that in a play which has just two characters, there are at least FOUR points of view to consider, the viewpoint of each of the two characters, that of the playwright and that of the reader.

Task C - Viewpoints in Comeclose and Sleepnow by Roger McGough

Although most poems have one level of discourse, some, like plays, have two, and a few may even have three.

Consider the poem 'Comeclose and Sleepnow', which we have already examined in some detail and draw a discourse structure diagram for it. When you have done so, compare your diagram with ours

Variations from the prototypical two-level discourse structure of drama

We can see from the example in Task C that although poetry is prototypically a genre involving one level of discourse, some poems can actually have the 'doubled' discourse more typical of drama. Similarly, drama can sometimes have an extra (in this case a third) level of discourse. A famous play that has three discourse levels is A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt . This play is about Sir Thomas More, the head of the Catholic church in England during the reign of Henry VIII. Henry wants More to agree with his wish to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, so that he can take another wife. But the Pope in Rome has not agreed to the divorce and so More can't either. History tells us that Henry eventually got his way, but at the price of a schism with the Catholic church which began the Reformation and the establishment of the Church of England. And at the end of the play More is imprisoned in the Tower of London, awaiting his execution. At the beginning of this play, one of the minor characters, the Common Man talks directly to the audience and comments on what is going on in the play. This is something which he does from time to time throughout the play. Whenever he does this, he is effectively acting as a narrator. But the same actor also plays the role of More's servant, his steward. He steps out of his narrator role to do this, putting on the hat and coat of the steward, and Bolt's name for him changes in the text from 'Common Man' to 'Steward' and back again, as his role changes back and forth. Thus, to represent the discourse structure of A Man for all Seasons adequately we would need three abstract levels of discourse structure. Imagine that in the play More is having a conversation with Henry VIII and the Common Man, unobserved, is commenting to us on what they are saying:

Addresser 1
(Robert Bolt)


Addressee 1

Addresser 2
(Common Man: Narrator)


Addressee 2

Addresser 3


Addressee 2
(Henry VIII)

Although we need three levels of discourse structure to account for this play, it is also important to notice that the play's 'discourse architecture' changes from one point to another. When the Common Man is present we need to take account of the middle level, the narrator level. But when the Common Man narrator is not present the play reverts to the standard two-level discourse architecture prototypically associated with plays.

Discourse structure of 1st and 3rd person novels

Because novels always have narrators present, as well as authors, readers and characters, they prototypically need three discourse levels in their discourse architecture. In other words, the abstract discourse structure for the novel as a genre is like the discourse architecture we saw in the play A Man for All Seasons:

Note that the term usually used for the person who the narrator addresses is the 'narratee'.
The reason that criticism of the novel has largely been the criticism of viewpoint is that prototypically the novel has the most discourse levels and so the most viewpoints to take into account: at least six, according to the above diagram (and this only assumes a novel with two characters of course!). We will also discover, as we explore the topic of point of view, that it is the interactions between level 2 and the other levels that is crucially important in the novelist's ability to manipulate viewpoint in interesting and innovative ways. The other important thing to notice, which is strongly connected with what we have just said, is that this abstract discourse structure represents the novel as a whole. But we will now begin to see that particular novels have discourse architectures which are particular variations on the abstract discourse structure for the novel as a whole, and that these variations affect viewpoint.

Task A - The discourse architecture of 1st-person narration: Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre

In Charlotte Brontë's famous novel Jane Eyre, Jane tells the story of what happened in her life from when she was a small girl to her marriage to Mr Rochester at the end of the novel. She is thus a typical 1st-person narrator, a narrator who is a character in her own story. Readers also often feel that she is telling the story to them directly, and indeed at the end of the novel she actually says 'reader, I married him'.

Draw what you think is the overall discourse architecture for this novel and compare it with our diagram. For the purposes of the diagram, pretend that she is telling us about something which she said to Mr Rochester just before the wedding.

Task B - The discourse architecture of 1st-person narration: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Conrad's famous novella Heart of Darkness, begins with a 1st-person narration on the part of a sailor. This sailor tells us about his shipmate, Marlowe, who then tells a story to his shipmates (including the I-narrator) about a journey he made down the river Congo in Africa with a man called Kurtz . The reader effectively listens in on this tale. Throughout, every paragraph of Marlowe's narrative description begins with quotation marks, and the anonymous I-narrator also occasionally makes a comment to us about what Marlowe says, and 'frames' Marlowe's I-narration with some concluding commentary at the end of the novella, as well as at the beginning.

What is the story's discourse architecture and how would you expect it to affect our relations with the characters in the story as we read it? In producing your discourse structure diagram, imagine that Marlowe the character is being represented talking to Kurtz. Compare your findings with ours.

Task C The discourse architecture of 3rd-person narration

1st-person narrators (or I-narrators as they are also called) are narrators who tell their own tale, and so use the 1st-person pronoun when referring to themselves. But there is another very common form of narration where all the characters are referred to in the 3rd person and collapsing cannot therefore take place on the left-hand side between the bottom two levels of the discourse structure diagram. These narrations will seem much more 'objective' than 1st-person narrations because they are not automatically attached to the viewpoint of a particular character. Indeed, with 3rd-person narrators there is a strong tendency for readers to collapse together levels 1 and 2 on the left-hand side of the discourse structure diagram and assume that the narrator and the author are really the same person. This leads to the idea that 3rd-person narrators are omniscient. They know everything and can take us inside the mind of any character if they so wish. In other words, by and large, 3rd-person narrators (= authors) know everything and tell the truth, whereas 1st-person narrators (= characters) are notoriously unreliable. The '3rd-person narrator = author' equation appears to be a default reading assumption. But beware: there are some well-known cases where the assumption does not hold. Not all authors invent narrators whose views and attitudes they share!

Even with a 3rd-person narration, it is possible for the narrator to take up a viewpoint that coincides with that of a particular character or characters. Indeed, one if its strengths is that it is possible to adopt the viewpoint of more than one character at different points in a story, whereas the choice of a 1st-person narrator aligns us with that particular narrator-character throughout.
Given that the English pronoun system has 3 persons, 1st, 2nd and 3rd, logically, it should also be possible to have 2nd-person narrators. And indeed there have been a few 2nd-person narration novels in the last decade of the 20th century. An example would be 'Half Asleep in Frog Pyjamas' by the 'hippy' author Tom Robbins. But you'll be pleased to know we won't go into 2nd-person narrators on this course as they are pretty untypical so far at least. Instead, we will let you have a look at a Tom Robbins website for fun (you'll find a link to it in Robbin's "author detail" page), and finish with a final exercise.

Task D - The discourse architecture of Bleak House by Charles Dickens

In Bleak House there are two narrations which are interleaved throughout the book in alternate chapters. One of them is a 3rd-person narration, and the other is a 1st-person narration by one of the main characters, a young woman called Esther Summerson, who appears to talk directly to us.

Draw the general discourse architecture for the novel and say what you think its overall viewpoint consequences might be. Then compare your analysis with our own.

Being the author!


You will learn most from this task if you complete it in discussion with others. Below is a description of part of a story we have invented. We have tried to tell it in as neutral or 'objective' a way as possible. In other words, we have made a point of narrating it so that it is not 'attached' to the viewpoint of any of the participants/characters.

Your overall task is to re-tell the story from the viewpoint of one of the characters, and consider how you have changed the text to achieve that. But to help you, we have broken that overall task down into a number of stages.

  1. Read the text below a couple of times until you feel you are familiar with it, then discuss what features of the text give it the 'neutrality' we have tried to achieve and compare your conclusions with what we say.

    (1) A woman is sitting in a room with the door closed.

    (2) She is stroking a cat, which is sitting on her lap.
    (3) A man, who has a gun in his hand (he is a policeman looking for an escaped murdress) enters the room sundenly. (4) The woman jumps up in fright.
    (5) The cat runs past the man and out through the door.
    (6) The woman attacks the man with a knife. (7) In reaction he shoots the woman,who receives a wound in the arm.

  2. Below the story is repeated. Click on the number of each sentence to see a picture of what is described from the neutral viewpoint we have adopted.
    (1) A woman is sitting in a room with the door closed.
    (2) She is stroking a cat, which is sitting on her lap.
    (3) A man, who has a gun in his hand (he is a policeman looking for an escaped murdress) enters the room sundenly. (4) The woman jumps up in fright.
    (5) The cat runs past the man and out through the door.
    (6) The woman attacks the man with a knife. (7) In reaction he shoots the woman,who receives a wound in the arm.
  3. Now imagine the story as it would be perceived by just ONE of the characters, the man or the woman. Draw a picture of each step of the story to take account of the restricted viewpoint you choose. This set of drawings will be the basis of your writing task below. Note that restricting the viewpoint in this way will mean that some of the visual information we have provided in our 'click-ons' above may 'disappear' as a result of the viewpoint restriction.

  4. Now rewrite the sentences in the original story, from the point of view of either the woman or the man, to correspond with the pictures you have drawn. Use the 1st-person and past tense narration mode. Stick as closely as you can to what is described in the original (don't invent unnecessary new events, for example), but pay close attention to encapsulating the perceptions related to the viewpoint you have chosen to represent. You can insert a few important extra details where you feel they are really necessary, but only if they are strictly relevant to the change in viewpoint. This is not a free exercise in creative writing! We are most interested in your narrating roughly the same content as in the original, but from the point of view of the different participants, so that you can see how particular linguistic forms are indicative of viewpoint. Change the words as much as you like, while keeping the basic content intact. You may find that you need to omit particular details from our original, or change the sequence in which the events occur. Note that there are many possible ways in which you can adequately re-cast the story. There isn't just one reasonable 'answer' (though there are also even more re-casts that are inadequate, and which you may well not even consider!)

  5. Note down what linguistic changes have you made in order to adopt this new viewpoint.

  6. Now compare your work for steps 4 and 5 above with our efforts.

  7. Is the neutral text we started with really neutral? After you have considered this question, compare what you think with what we think.

  8. Could you have restricted the viewpoint to just one of the characters while using a 3rd-person narration mode?

Different kinds of point of view

So far we have noticed some rather general things about point of view and how it changes in texts, and later on in this topic we will look closely at how viewpoint is signalled linguistically. But before we go on to that it will be helpful if we note that there are a number of different kinds of viewpoint:

  1. Spatial viewpoint
    The most basic manifestation of viewpoint has to do with our position in space. Looking at something from one position is different from looking at it from another position. Compare 'The tiger disappeared into the distance' with 'The tiger got larger and larger'. The first sentence represents a viewing position behind the tiger, with the tiger moving away, and the second is from a position in front of the tiger with it moving nearer and nearer to the viewing position. Spatial viewpoint encodes distance (nearer/farther) as well as position in relation to other objects

  2. Temporal viewpoint
    By analogy with temporal viewpoint we can see that we also encode temporal viewpoints when we talk. 'Yesterday, the exam' and 'Tomorrow, the exam' position us 'behind' and 'in front of' the exam (note how we have used spatial metaphors in these prepositions to represent time). Time points can also be nearer or further away from the 'time viewing' position, as well as being on one side or the other of that position. All these spatial metaphors for time indicate that spatial viewpoint is the most basic.

  3. Social viewpoint
    We can also talk of social viewpoint. We can talk refer to people as being above or below us in status (note the use of spatial metaphors again), and as being close or distant from us (cf. 'sister' and 'step-sister', or 'mother' and 'mother-in-law').

  4. Personal / ideological viewpoint

    Whatever their social status, we can look down on, or up to the opinions of others (cf. the spatial metaphors again!), depending upon whether we agree or disagree with their personal or socio-political views. If someone in an organisation makes public what they see as some wrongdoing, they might be seen as a dreadful 'traitor' or a benign 'whistle blower', which likens them to a referee in a football match.

  5. Conceptual viewpoint
    Sometimes the representation of a viewpoint can be so different from ours that it represents a different way of conceptualising the world we live in. If a small child calls all male adults 'daddy', it is because he has not yet properly made the conceptual distinction between his father and other male adults. In other words, his conceptual viewpoint is different from ours. A good example of conceptual viewpoint in a poem is Craig Raine's 'A Martian Sends a Postcard Home', where a Martian visiting Earth refers to what are ordinary objects for us in very different terms. So books, for example, are described as 'mechanical birds'. For us the Martian has completely misunderstood what books are because of his conceptual viewpoint. We can see how he has done it, because half-open books do look a bit like large birds in flight, but we can also see that he has a completely different conceptualisation of the world from us.

Linguistic indicators of point of view

On previous pages we have looked at some of the big overarching factors involved in the study of viewpoint - different kinds of narrator, the discourse 'architectures' of different texts and different kinds of point of view (spatial, temporal etc). Now we will shift from macro to micro. We will explore a number of extracts from novels and short stories to see how viewpoint is indicated and controlled by particular linguistic features. As we explore these texts in detail, we will effectively be going through the areas covered on the point of view checksheet which we have provided for this topic.

Task A - Inferring the world of the fiction

As we read we enter into, by the inferential work we do, a fictional world 'behind the words'. Part of what is involved in this fictional world inference is the understanding of viewpoint and perspective. We will explore various aspects of this in more detail on this page, but first let's notice how we infer different 'pictures' as we read along.

Below is a short extract from a story by Virginia Woolf. You will need to read the whole extract first.

The only thing that moved upon the vast semicircle of the beach was one small black spot. As it came nearer to the ribs and spine of the stranded pilchard boat, it became apparent from a certain tenuity in its blackness that this spot possessed four legs; and moment by moment it became more unmistakable that it was composed of the persons of two young men.

(Virginia Woolf, Solid Objects)

You will see below that we have divided the extract up into three parts, (A), (B) and (C), which can be drawn as three different versions of the same scene.We would like you (i) to draw each version of the scene, and (ii) to describe what it is in the language that guides you to draw the pictures you do. Finally, you can compare your version with ours.
(A) The only thing that moved upon the vast semicircle of the beach was one small black spot.

(B) As it came nearer to the ribs and spine of the stranded pilchard boat, it became apparent from a certain tenuity in its blackness that this spot possessed four legs:

(C) and moment by monent it became more unmistakable that it was composed of the persons of two young men.
Task B - Given and New Information

When we give information to one another we distinguish between information which is new for the person we are talking to and information which is given (i.e. assumed to be known already by the other person). So, if A tells B 'My flatmate has given the television to a neighbour', it would appear that A assumes that B knows the flatmate and which television is being referred to, but does not know the identity of the neighbour. The neighbour is being referred to indefinitely (through the use of the indefinite article 'a') and the flatmate and television are referred to definitely (through the use of the possessive pronoun and the definite article respectively).

So, one way in which viewpoint can be indicated or controlled in texts is by presenting information referred to definitely or indefinitely. As stories portray fictional worlds, we often won't have knowledge of the items being referred to at all, but the use of definite and indefinite reference will lead us to pretend to ourselves as we read that we know, or do not know, something already. This can be seen most clearly at the beginnings of stories.

(i) Read carefully and compare the two story openings below. One of the openings is from a well-known folktale and the other is from a famous book written for children. Which opening makes you feel the most 'involved', or 'close' to what is being described, and why?

(A) Once upon a time there lived a sweet little girl, who was beloved by everyone who saw her; but her grandmother was so excessively fond of her that she never knew when she had done enough for her (1). One day the grandmother presented the little girl with a red velvet cap (2).

(Little Red Riding Hood)

(B) One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it - it was the black kitten's fault entirely (1). For the white kitten had been having its face washed by an old cat for the last quarter of an hour (2).

(Lewis Carroll , Through the Looking Glass)

(ii) Now write down your answers and compare your conclusions with ours.

Task C - Deixis

Another way in which viewpoint can be indicated in language is through deixis. Deixis has to do with coding information as close to ('proximal') or remote ('distal') from the speaker. Typically, deictic expressions come in pairs in relation to this proximal/remote contrast. Consider the place adverbs 'here' and 'there', for example. 'Here' means 'near the speaker' and so what counts as 'here' and 'there' will change depending on who is talking. The demonstrative pronouns 'this'/'these' and 'that'/'those' also express the proximal/distal contrast.

Deictic expressions range across the grammar of English grammatical categories, e.g.



Grammatical category



place adverbs



time adverbs



demonstrative pronouns



verbs - movement towards/ away from speaker

Note also that once we have seen central examples of deixis like those mentioned above, it is easy (but perhaps not helpful?) to widen the scope of deixis to include other factors which are viewpoint-related in language. Are the adverbs/prepositions 'above' and 'below' deictic? They are clearly speaker-related in most contexts, but they do not express the proximal/distal relationship. So they are not properly deictic, but do express viewpoint relationships. The important thing is to be aware of the different kinds of viewpoint and the myriad of ways in which viewpoint can be expressed.

In the extract below, a white South African woman, living under the last days of the apartheid regime, is thinking about the news in the paper that a wild animal is invading the town where she lives and causing considerable anxiety.

What kind of expression is 'these days', and how does it 'position us' in relation to the woman's viewpoint? Compare your response with ours.

Whatever it was, it made a nice change from the usual sort of news, these days.

(Nadine Gordimer , Something Out There)

Task D - Deixis (cont.)

In the example below, Mr Verloc, an anarchist secret agent, has had a bad day. His wife doesn't know he is a secret agent and she has pushed him into taking her brother, Stevie, who is mentally subnormal, with him when he went into London. Unfortunately, unbeknown to Mrs Verloc, Mr Verloc was due to plant a bomb at the Greenwich Observatory, to 'blow up time'. In spite of Mr Verloc's protestations, Stevie then insisted (because his sister had told him he must be helpful to Mr Verloc) on carrying the package with the bomb in it. And he tripped over a tree root as he crossed the park towards the observartory, and so blew up himself, and not time. Mr Verloc has now told his wife everything, and is lying on the sofa, looking up at the ceiling and waiting for Mrs Verloc to bring him his supper. Mr Verloc does not know (but the reader does!) that his wife is about to stab him with the carving knife.

How does the predicator 'was coming' contribute to the meaning and effect here? Compare your thoughts with ours.

Mr Verloc heard the creaky plank in the floor and was content. He waited. Mrs Verloc was coming.

(Joseph Conrad , The Secret Agent)

Task E - Social Deixis

As we pointed out in our discussion of different kinds of point of view, once we have established the idea of spatial and temporal viewpoint we can extend the viewpoint idea analogically into other areas, like 'social deixis'. The varying ways in which we can refer to others express, among other things, the idea of closer or more remote social relations. If you refer to Mick Short as 'Professor Short' (title + last name) you are expressing a much more distant and respectful relation than if you refer to him as 'Mick' (first name only) and this seems rather like the proximal/distal area applied to social relations.

With that in mind, consider the following extract, which comes from the beginning of a novel. What are the narrator's social relations with the various characters who are introduced, and what role does the manner in which they are referred to play in this?
We have highlighted the names of the characters, and you can click on them to compare what we say with what you think. Think also, as you build up this specification of what is effectively a web of relationships, how this text positions you, the reader? How do you fit into the social system? You can compare our answer by clicking on the question we have asked immediately after the quotation.

Task F - Verbs of perception and cognition

In the extract below, we are clearly given the point of view of the character Ida Arnold. What role do the highlighted verbs play in this?

Ida Arnold sat up in the boarding-house bed. (1) For a moment she didn’t know where she was (2). Her head ached with the thick night at Sherry’s (3). It came slowly back to her as she stared at the thick ewer on the floor ... (3)

(Graham Greene, Brighton Rock)

Task G - Psychological sequencing

Another way in which viewpoint can be represented is if the sequence of events is portrayed in a way which is unusual and appears to represent the sequence of impressions of a particular character, from whose viewpoint we are seeing whatever develops. Consider the following sequence from a horror story:

A hand dripping with blood came over the windowsill. Then the head of Count Dracula!

The fact that we get restricted information in the sequence that we do suggests that we are seeing the events from the point of view of someone inside the room, perhaps the Count's next intended victim.

Similarly, if we are told 'The light came on. They were not alone!', we feel that get the perceptions and reactions of the people in the room. Again we have restriction of information ('the light came on' does not tell us who switched it on) and a sequence of events which only makes sense from a particular viewpoint.

How does the sequencing of the events below indicate the psychological viewpoint of the 1st-person narrator? Compare your answer with ours.

A figure appeared in the door (1). It was Conchis (2).

(John Fowles , The Magus, Ch. 62.)

Ideological viewpoint

On the 'Linguistic Indicators of Point of View' page we saw, through the examination of a small extract from D. H. Lawrence's story Fanny and Annie, that, in addition to spatial viewpoint, we could establish temporal, social and attitudinal viewpoint, all of which are signalled linguistically. We also pointed out someone's attitude is not merely individual, but is representative of a significant group of people, this kind of viewpoint is often described as being ideological in nature. This is particularly the case if the set of attitudes perceived behind what someone says or writes relates to socio-political matters. On this page we are going to explore attitudinal and ideological viewpoint in more detail.

Task A - Estate Agents

It is usually easiest to see attitudinal and ideological viewpoints when they are markedly different from ours. One version of this contrast is the distinction between what we see as reality and some alternate 'construction' of reality. Estate Agents are notorious for producing descriptions of properties which emphasise the advantages and play down the disadvantages of the properties they are trying to sell.

Write a spoof Estate Agent's description for the following house to appear in a local newspaper and consider what changes you have made. You can then compare it with our attempt and commentary : ONLINE TASK

Task B - The Press

Below is an excerpt from a larger table which appeared in The Guardian on 23 January 1991. It was written during the 'Gulf War', when Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army invaded Kuwait, and American and British forces repulsed them. The table was effectively a critique of the biased ideological representation of the war in the British (mainly) tabloid press. The table was constructed on the basis of terms which had appeared in the press in the week before the article was published.

  1. Look carefully at the lexical items a section at a time (beginning with the title and a general overall indication of what is happening) and how they are contrasted in the table. We have added numbers to indicate how we would like you to look at the text, section by section.

  2. How are they being used (a) to represent the ideology of the majority of British newspapers and (b) to be critical of it?

  3. Can the table tell us anything about the ideological viewpoint of the Guardian writer?

  4. When you have worked out careful answers for each section, compare your commentary with ours by choosing the section number.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen [1]

We have

Army, Navy and Air Force

Reporting guidelines
Press briefings

They have [2]

A war machine



Take out

Dig in

They [3]


Cower in their foxholes

We launch

First strikes


They launch [4]

Sneak missile attacks

Without provocation

Our men are...


Their men are... [5]


Our boys are...


Young knights of the skies
Desert rats

Theirs are... [6]


Paper tigers
Bastards of Baghdad
Blindly obedient
Mad dogs

(Excerpt from a larger table which appeared in The Guardian, 23 January 1991)
Task C - Example from a novel

Below is an extract from a famous novel about a 19th century expedition from Europe to Central Africa. Marlow, the 1st-person narrator is appointed by a European trading company to succeed one of their river steamer captains, who has been killed in Central Africa by local people. Marlow's boat has to travel 30 miles inland to reach the company's trading station, and the passage below describes part of that journey.

1. What ideological attitude on the part of late 19th century Europeans towards Africa and Africans does Marlow express?

2. How does the linguistic form of what says convey that ideological viewpoint?

We were wanderers on prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet (1). We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil (2). But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage (3). The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy (4). The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us - who could tell? (5)

(Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness)

After you have thought through your answers carefully, compare what you have found with what we say.

Point of view in a more extended example

On this page we are going to put all that we have learnt about viewpoint into practice by examining an extended extract. We will do this by looking at a passage from D. H. Lawrence's short story Fanny and Annie a sentence at a time, noting:

(a) whose viewpoint is being represented;
(b) what kind of viewpoint is involved;
(c) what linguistic indicators of viewpoint are being used to signal the viewpoint, and;
(d) what meanings and effects are associated the viewpoint factors we notice.

Task A

Read the introduction we provide below, and then read the passage it introduces carefully until you feel you understand it and are familiar with it.

Context: We have already examined a small extract from Fanny and Annie on the linguistic indicators of viewpoint page, when we introduced the idea of attitudinal viewpoint. Lawrence's short story is told via a 3rd-person narrator who narrates a considerable amount of the story from Fanny's viewpoint. She is thus the main 'reflector' or 'focaliser' in the story and we tend to sympathise with her as we read it. Fanny, a governess who has lost her job, has returned to the village she grew up in, and everyone assumes that she will marry her childhood sweetheart, Frank Goodall. But it is clear from the beginning that Fanny is really returning because she has nowhere else to go, and so, at best, she is lukewarm to her proposed marriage. This is reflected in the extract we have already examined though the attitudinal adjectives marking her viewpoint.

When she gets off the train she thinks of the station as small and grubby and this sets the tone for the story: she doesn't seem to like the village she grew up in or her fiancé very much. She has left them behind in social and attitudinal terms. She consistently uses the 'title + last name' formulation 'Mrs Goodall' to address Frank's mother, suggesting a rather distant social relationship with her prospective mother-in-law. The extract below occurs towards the end of the story, and the incident described appears to be the factor which helps Fanny decide to marry Frank. Indeed, soon after the incident she addresses Mrs Goodall as 'mother' for the first time.

So, the context for the passage below is that although it has been assumed by everyone else that Fanny will marry Harry, now that she has returned to the village, she has been debating in her own mind whether to go ahead or not. The scene is the village church, in the middle of a church service, and with the entire village, including Fanny, in the congregation. Harry is a soloist in the church choir. As one of the hymns comes to a close on Harry's solo, an extraordinary event happens.
After you are familiar with the passage, for each sentence in turn, write down:
(a) whose viewpoint you think we are getting
(b) what kind of viewpoint you think is being represented (spatial, temporal, social, attitudinal, conceptual), and
(c) what linguistic markers of viewpoint are involved.

But at the moment when Harry's voice sank carelessly down to his close, and the choir, standing behind him, were opening their mouths for the final triumphant outburst, a shouting female voice rose up from the body of the congregation (1). The organ gave one startled trump, and went silent; the choir stood transfixed (2). "You look well standing there, singing in God's holy house," came the loud, angry female shout (3). Everybody turned electrified (4). A stoutish, redfaced woman in a black bonnet was standing up denouncing the soloist (5). Almost fainting with shock, the congregation realised it (6). "You look well, don't you, standing there singing solos in God's holy house, you, Goodall (7). But I said I'd shame you (8). You look well, bringing your young woman here with you, don't you? (9) I'll let her know who she's dealing with (10). A scamp as won't take the consequences of what he's done. " (11) The hard-faced, frenzied woman turned in the direction of Fanny (12). "That's what Harry Goodall is, if you want to know." (13) And she sat down again in her seat (14). Fanny, startled like all the rest, had turned to look (l5). She had gone white, and then a burning red, under the attack (l6). She knew the woman: a Mrs Nixon, a devil of a woman, who beat her pathetic, drunken, red-nosed second husband, Bob, and her two lanky daughters, grown-up as they were (17). A notorious character (18). Fanny turned round again, and sat motionless as eternity in her seat (19).
(D.H. Lawrence , Fanny and Annie)

Task B

We have two more questions for you to consider. Write down your comments, before comparing them with ours.

A. What can we learn in general terms from this exercise?

B. And what can we learn about the story itself?

Point of view checksheet
See separate sheet

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