Narrative technique and point of view play an important part in how a reader can engage with a short story. Depending upon how the technique is used, the reader can either feel included or alienated1, even in the most inclusive form of narrative, that of the first person singular perspective. I will be referring to three stories from the reader, all written with a first person perspective, and discussing how this narrative technique, partnered with other aspects of the story, engage the reader in it. Heather M. Steffen defines First Person perspective as a narrative style indicated by the use of the pronouns “I” (for the singular form) and “we” (plural form). The events of the story are being told by someone who is or did experience them. One of its downfalls is that the reader is only able to view a single characters emotions thought and experiences within the story, but this perspective can make the story seem more immediate, thus generally more engaging for the reader, without being intrusive (as a second person perspective can often do).2 The three stories I will be using are also all connected by a recurring theme, that of death and injury, chosen so that the contrast between them is all the more clear.
Beginning with Aquifer, by Tim Winton, the first person perspective here is that of a man who is returning to his childhood home, due to a grisly discovery in the swamp at the end of his street3. Winton begins the story in the present, with the narrator seeing a news report regarding the discovery of human bones near his childhood home. This triggers a memory of long ago, and we are taken on a metaphorical and physical journey, back to when the narrator was a child growing up in a new development outside of Perth. This journey through time is occurring concurrently with the narrator making the drive back to the area, and we learn not only about the death of one of his neighbours in the swamp, but also of the eventual death of much of the swamp itself, as it is shaped and formed to the needs of the growing community.
As readers, we are drawn into the story by a yearning to learn more about this man, and why he feels the need to return to this place, that he had long since abandoned. We feel for this man, coming to terms with the way his old home has changed, because we too as readers find ourselves looking back on our childhood homes, and finding that they are completely different to how we remember them, whether through actual change, or just a distortion of memory.
In complete opposition to this feeling is that which one feels when faced with Malky, the narrator and viewpoint character of Irvine Welsh’s A Fault on the Line.4 Malky is a brash and seemingly uncaring man, whose language and manner can be a huge turn off to the reader. This is something of a pattern for Welsh, as noted by Robert Morace: ‘...provides an arresting portrait of the pathological Scot as a [young] urban male, graphic [not only] in its language and depiction of violence...’5 This is all well and good for a reader coming from a similar background, who can relate to the character of Malky (who is less of an urban young male and more of a working class rough man), on some sort of basic level (though not necessarily the sort of person who would blame their own wife for getting her legs chopped off), but for the average reader, if there is such a thing, it is a far more difficult task to engage with the viewpoint character of Malky, as he is so different from many readers.
Of course, yet another level of...