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What is a narrative? Who is the narrator? What is voice?

ThingsFallApartNovels and short stories are narratives, which means the story is told to us rather than enacted (as it would be in a play or a film).
—Our first impression when we read may be that we are shown what happens, because we can visualize the scene:

”Umuofia kwenu”, he bellowed a fifth time, and the crowd yelled in answer. And then suddenly like one possessed he shot out his left hand and pointed in the direction of Mbaino, and said through gleaming white teeth firmly clenched: ”Those sons of wild animals have dared to murder a daughter of Umuofia.” He threw his head down and gnashed his teeth, and allowed a murmur of suppressed anger to sweep the crowd.

(Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, p. 10)

Who is the narrator? Voice

—A work of literature always has a voice. Consider these text extracts:

My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057.

Eight years ago, when I first met Siobhan, she showed me this picture

sad smiley

and I knew that it meant ‘sad,’ which is what I felt when I found the dead dog.

Then she showed me this picture


and I knew that it meant ‘happy’, like when I’m reading about the Apollo space missions, or when I am still awake at 3 am or 4 am in the morning and I can walk up and down the street and pretend that I am the only person in the whole world.

  Who does the voice belong to?

Two roads diverged in a yellow woodroad not taken
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;


(Robert Frost, ”The Road Not Taken”)

  Who does the voice belong to?

He heard somebody sobbing.

It was the woman sitting next to him.

At first he hadn’t noticed. He’d simply spotted the empty seat when he boarded the bus and sat down in it. But once he was settled in he heempty seatard a strange sound like an imperfection in a machine wheel. Click click click click, rhythmic, constant. Hard to tell what it was, what with the bus noises and all, but after a while he identified it. The woman next to him was sobbing.

(Yuan Qiongqiong, ”Empty Seat”)

  Who does the voice belong to?

Author and Narrator

—Many students have trouble understanding the difference between the author and the narrator.
—The main reason for the confusion is that sometimes they seem to be identical (Knausgård, Loe, Hamsun, Dostojevskij).
—Also, when a story is told from a third person or from an omniscient point of view, the identity of the narrator is unclear, and so we identify the narrator as the author.
—One useful trick is to think of the narrator as a character created by the author (even if the narrator is never shown or referred to!)
—You may not be able to see the narrator, but you can hear his or her voice.
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