Point of View (Routledge Revivals)
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Point of View (Routledge Revivals)

A Linguistic Analysis of Literary Style

Susan L. Ehrlich

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Point of View (Routledge Revivals)

A Linguistic Analysis of Literary Style

Susan L. Ehrlich

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About This Book

The purpose of Point of View, first published in 1990, is twofold: from the perspective of linguistics, to analyse the discourse structure of texts; from the perspective of literary studies, to explain certain non-linguistic aspects of the texts in terms of linguistic form. This study therefore aims to provide a balanced and sufficiently comprehensive account of the relationship between linguistic form and point of view. It will be of particular value to literature students with an interest in linguistics, and literary style.

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DOI: 10.4324/9781315771250-1

1.0 Introduction

The question of whose point of view a speaker/writer adopts in describing events within a narrative has been the subject of much study in the field of literary criticism.1 In recent years, it has received attention from linguists who have argued that linguistic form contributes to the apprehension of point of view. That is, a reader/listener will interpret an utterance or discourse as reflecting a particular point of view, in part, because of the linguistic form of that utterance or discourse. Kuno and Kaburaki (1975), for example, show how certain formal properties of a sentence can affect its interpretation in terms of point of view. Sentences with the same propositional content, like those in (1) below, differ with respect to what Kuno and Kaburaki call ‘camera angles’.
  1. John hit Mary.
  2. John hit his wife.
  3. Mary’s husband hit her.
In (1a), the event in question is presented objectively by the speaker; the camera can be said to be placed at some point equi-distant from both John and Mary. In (1b), the speaker describes the event from John’s point of view, and in (1c) from Mary’s point of view. In (1b), Kuno and Kaburaki claim that the camera is placed closer to John in viewing the event and in (1c) that the camera is placed closer to Mary. What is crucial to notice is that the linguistic form of these sentences determines these differing interpretations.
Building on the work of Kuno and Kaburaki, Kuno (1987) substitutes the term ‘empathy’ for the notion of ‘camera angle’, defining empathy as ‘the speaker’s identification, which may vary in degree, with a person/thing that participates in the event or state that he describes in a sentence’ (Kuno 1987:206). For Kuno, syntactic constructions differ to the extent that they convey a speaker’s empathy. A passive sentence like Bill was hit by his brother, for example, is said to convey a speaker’s closer identification with Bill than with John (the referent of his brother). On the other hand, the active sentence John hit his brother is said to convey the opposite empathy perspective. (These interpretations are also a result of the possessive NPs, which indicate that the speaker is closer to the referent of the possessor than to that of the entire NP.)
While Kuno distinguishes between the linguistic correlates of partial and total identification of the speaker with a person or character being described, he points out that the latter perspective seldom occurs in conversation but readily occurs in narratives. Kuroda (1973), for example, identifies a narrative style in Japanese (what he calls a non-reportive style) where, in Kuno’s terms, the narrator (speaker) totally identifies with the characters involved in the described events. Of linguistic interest within this style is the co-occurrence of sensation adjectives, normally predicated of first-person subjects, with third-person subjects. Because the sensation adjectives in question can represent only a speaker’s experiencing of sensations or emotions, their occurrence with third-person subjects serves to invoke the third person’s point of view. Thus, in Kuno’s terms, the narrator (speaker) totally identifies with the third person.
Kuroda’s non-reportive style has an English counterpart in what has been termed free, indirect style.2 Like the non-reportive style of Japanese, free, indirect style often exhibits the narrator’s (speaker’s) total identification with characters. That is, the subjective points of view of third-person subjects often emerge within texts characterized by free, indirect style. Several linguistic treatments (Banfield 1973, 1978, 1981, 1982; Fillmore 1981; Dry 1975, 1977) of this style have attempted to describe the causal relationship that exists between certain linguistic phenomena and the interpretation of point of view. While these studies have gone a long way in establishing the linguistic correlates of point of view, it is my contention that they have not been completely adequate in accounting for point of view in free, indirect style because they are sentence-based analyses. In this chapter, I point out some of the limitations of a strictly syntactic account of point of view and suggest that an analysis that goes beyond the level of the sentence is a more descriptively adequate one. In the sections that follow, I present a general description of free, indirect style (exemplified by passages from Woolf), a discussion of the limitations of previous linguistic treatments, and a discussion of the style in relation to the discourse notions of foreground and background.

1.1 General Description

Following Banfield, I will refer to the literary style under discussion as represented speech and thought (hereafter RST). The formal distinctiveness of this style lies in its blurring of the distinction between direct and indirect discourse. While displaying many of the features of direct discourse, the sentences of RST maintain the pronominal reference and the sequence of tense that characterizes indirect discourse.
Traditionally such texts have been classified as ‘third-person narratives’ because the narrator or formal speaker of the discourse never speaks of himself/herself but rather of characters designated by third-person pronouns. In such texts, then, there is an absence of first-person pronouns which designate the formal speaker of the discourse. ‘Third-person narratives’ have traditionally been distinguished from ‘first-person narratives’ in that the latter do contain ‘first-person pronouns which refer to the narrator/formal speaker of the discourse. In fact, the terms ‘third-person narrative’ and ‘first-person narrative’ are misnomers, as they imply the complete absence of first-person pronouns within ‘third-person narratives’. It is possible for texts traditionally labelled as ‘third-person narratives’ to contain first-person pronouns in direct discourse where the first-person pronoun refers to a character in the text. Tamir (1976) suggests replacing the inadequate terminology ‘first and third-person narration’ by personal and impersonal discourse, respectively. If the narrator/formal speaker of a text refers to himself/herself (i.e. if the narrator is a participant in the events he/she is narrating), then the text is considered to be personal discourse, according to Tamir. If, on the other hand, the narrator/formal speaker does not refer to himself/herself in the discourse, then the text is considered to be impersonal discourse.
In RST, the narrator/formal speaker does not speak of himself/herself but rather reports on the activities, thoughts, and speech of characters in the fictional world. What distinguishes RST from other styles of impersonal discourse is the fact that many direct discourse constructions appear in the reporting (i.e. indirect discourse) of characters’ thoughts and speech. In other words, rather than reporting the thoughts and/or speech of characters from an objective perspective, the narrator reports them almost as they are spoken or thought by the characters themselves. In Kuno’s terms, the narrator totally identifies with a character in viewing the events of the narrative.
The effect of the mixture of direct and indirect discourse in texts characterized by RST is the emergence of points of view that do not always correspond to the point of view of the narrator of the discourse (i.e. a point of view where the speaker is equi-distant from all characters). This is impersonal discourse, then, because the narrator never speaks of himself/herself; however, this is impersonal discourse in which the personal perspectives of characters can be discerned. Auerbach (1968) has called RST and Woolf’s prose, in particular, ‘a multi-personal representation of consciousness’ because the events of the narrative are conveyed from the perspective of many different characters within the fictional world as well as of the narrator.
Consider the RST passage below from To the Lighthouse which illustrates the mixture of direct and indirect discourse. Notice, especially, that two formal properties of indirect discourse – concordance of grammatical person and concordance of tense – are evident. The sentences are indexed [a], [b], etc. for ease of reference.
[a] Wasn’t it late? she asked. [b] They hadn’t come home yet. [c] He flicked his watch carelessly open. [d] But it was only just past seven. [e] He held his watch open for a moment, deciding that he would tell her what he had felt on the terrace. [f] To begin with, it was not reasonable to be so nervous. [g] Andrew could look after himself. [h] Then, he wanted to tell her that when he was walking on the terrace just now – here he became uncomfortable, as if he were breaking into that solitude, that aloofness, that remoteness of hers…. [i] But she pressed him. [j] What had he wanted to tell her, she asked, thinking it was about going to the Lighthouse; and that he was sorry he had said ‘Damn you’. [k] But no. [l] He did not like to see her look so sad, he said. [m] Only wool gathering, she protested, flushing a little.
(To the Lighthouse, 78–9)
Concordance of grammatical person is exemplified in sentence [l] where the referent, Mr Ramsay, is designated by a third-person pronoun in both the main and embedded clauses: He did not like to see her look so sad, he said. Direct discourse requires no such concordance of grammatical person as it reports actual speech events. For example, the direct discourse counterpart of [l] might be: ‘I don’t like to see you look so sad,’ he said. Thus, in direct discourse co-referential NPs are always designated by different person pronouns (‘I’ and ‘he’, in this example) in the main and embedded clauses.
Concordance of tense is exemplified in sentence [j]: What had he wanted to tell her, she asked. The verb of the embedded clause (past perfect) differs in tense from the verb of the speech event (simple past). In the direct discourse counterpart of [j], ‘What did you want to tell me,’ she asked, both verbs are in the simple past. In sentence [j], the verb of the embedded clause has been back-shifted to past perfect in order to agree with the past tense of the narrative timeline.
While this passage displays these two formal markers of indirect discourse, it also contains formal features of direct discourse. Sentence [j] contains an inverted question, a syntactic structure ordinarily restricted to direct discourse as indicated by the ungrammaticality of (3):
  1. *She asked what had he wanted to tell her.3
Inverted questions are, of course, permissible in direct discourse as direct discourse reports the actual words a speaker utters. Sentence [m] exemplifies another construction normally restricted to direct discourse, an incomplete sentence (Only wool gathering, she protested). The indirect discourse counterpart would be the ungrammatical sentence:
  1. *She protested (that) only wool gathering.
Other syntactic structures of direct discourse can be found in the passages below. (Notice that both of these passages show concordance of grammatical person and tense.)
What he would have liked, she supposed, would have been to say how he had been to Ibsen with the Ramsays. He was an awful prig – oh yes, an insufferable bore. For, though they had reached the town now and were in the main street, with carts grinding past on the cobbles, still he went on talking, about settlements, and teaching, and working men, and helping our own class, and lectures till she gathered that he had got back entire self-confidence, had recovered from the circus….
(To the Lighthouse, 15–16)
He was really, Lily Briscoe thought, in spite of his eyes, but then look at his nose, look at his hands, the most uncharming human being she had ever met.
(To the Lighthouse, 99)
In (5), the exclamatory sentence, but then look at his nose, look at his hands, occurs in the reporting of Lily’s thought. This type of expression is normally excluded from indirect discourse, as exemplified by (7):
*Lily Briscoe thought (that) but then look at his nose, look at his hands.
Passage (8) contains another...

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