Limited Omniscient Narration
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Third-person omniscient and third-person limited omniscient narrations are two main types of third-person narration.
The third-person omniscient is the most common mode, particularly in sprawling and epic stories (Card 208). The third-person omniscient narrative mode involves a story presentation by a narrator with an overarching point of view in that he can see and know everything that happens within the story’s world, including the thoughts and feelings of each character.
In third-person limited omniscient narrations, such as in Shadows of a Childhood by Elisabeth Gille and "*BD* 11 1 86" by Joyce Carol Oates, the author write in the third person, but know everything that happens with one or a series of personages (Koss 24). Thoughts and feelings of other characters are unknown or known partially.
Since these two stories use the third-person limited omniscient narration mode, they have some similarities, as well as differences as explored in this paper.
Summary of Shadows of a Childhood by Elisabeth Gille
This is an autobiographical fiction novel, in which the author, Elisabeth Gille, presents her own childhood in warring environment and under the influence of strong friendship. The five-year-old Jewish girl Lea Levy, in the story, was rescued by a brother of one of the nuns during the roundup against Jews in France. The nun was hiding the little girl in a Bordeaux girl’s catholic convent with her authenticity as a Jew kept in a secret (Gille 4). The girl is suffering after separation from her loving parents and loss of comforts of her previous prosperous life. Lonely and being unable to comprehend the pain and challenges of a rude life, she appears to have a violent and unstable temper, be ungrateful and rebellious. However, one of the sisters spurs care and love for the girl, which help her overcome the despair. Lea trusts only Benedicte, a two years older girl, who ultimately saved Lea from her horrible fears and horrible nightmares. The two girls become inseparable friends. The war ends, and Benedicte’s parents come to the convent to claim her, and they take Lea, as well. Lea makes an attempt to find her own parents, and as she finds the revealing truth about the death camps, she loses her hope for the parent to come back. This was a turning point for Lea, orphaned by the war, as she contemplated silently and painfully on avenging for her parents’ death; this made her remain withdrawn and angry. Benedicte’s parents raised Lea as their own child, helping her overcome brutalities of her memories. However, without Benedicte’s loyalty, understanding, care and love Lea would be hopelessly lost. Later, the two girls moved to Paris to study at Sorbonne (Gille 104).
At school, Lea’s whole world shifts, again. Paris offered both possibilities and challenges, and this provoked the dilemma about Lea’s identity: Jewish and French authenticity. This question haunted her all her life. However, it was Benedicte’s friendship that supported Lea all her life.
Summary of "*BD* 11 1 86" by Joyce Carol Oates
“*BD* 11 I 86” is a narrative of Danny Neuworth, eighteen years old boy awaiting to graduate and join college (Oates 4). However, things changed for Danny, in one day, and every adult in his life turned against him and started lying to him or simply holding something back from him. Danny was an average boy in performance, appearance, lifestyle, and most of his other attributes. The fact that no foster parents wanted to adopt him showed that the adults were in silence conspiracy about him. In addition, Danny’s childhood was characterized by moving from one foster home to another. Throughout the story, the author hides the background of Danny, but hints on its significance in influencing the events that happened in his life. The meaning of the initials “*BD* 11 1 86” that he has seen at the table while waiting for Mrs. Jameson in his office is also hinted to be of significance to the events of Danny’s life. Only towards the end of the story the author reveals the secret behind Danny’s life by introducing Cale, a biotechnologist who was to carry out some tests on Danny. The “*BD*” stood for body donor and the figures “11 1 86” were his birth date (Oates 14). Then Danny’s life is unfolded to him, and he is informed that he was conceived to be harvested, and his brains to be exchanged for a “BIOTECHNIC”, who had paid for all the arrangements. Danny thought all that to be a joke; he could hardly realize how one can be murdered, because “Murder is against the law” (Oates). However, he had no choice; he was a property of the company and had been born with the help of bioengineering. The story ended with Danny left alone in the testing cubical, not believing the revelations about his life, waiting when he will be “adopted”.
The narrators in both novels have overarching points of view. As such, they are able to see and know everything that happens within the narratives’ worlds of the main characters. Furthermore, they understand the mind and feelings of the key characters.
It is evident that the third-person limited omnipresent narrator of the narrative Shadows of a Childhood has an overarching point of view. The narrator always knows what will happen in the story, due to the story’s autobiographical authenticity. On the other hand, the third party narrator here is necessary to show how one person is coming to terms with World War II, as well as give the reflection of Jewish on the respective history.
Likewise, the narrator of “*BD* 11 1 86” knows what is happening within the story. The author of the story makes use of the omniscient narrator effectively to bring suspense to the narration. The suspense in this narration acts as the hook point for the reader. Thus, the author manages to capture the reader even in the situation of a narrative that lacks a story line, as is the case with “*BD* 11 1 86”. The story starts at a turning point in life for the main character, Danny, and both his history and destiny are blurred (Oates 1). In that scenario, the narrator only hints on the past in the story and highlights some future, so as to express the significance of the current events.
At the same time, the limited, omniscient third party narrators in the two narratives have created distance between the writer and the reader. The writers in both cases have shown their lack of desire to afford considerable intimacy with the readers. They have, therefore, established themselves as authorities and managed to present the narrations with considerable objectivity. This position has proved its immense importance to the narrations because of the sensitive themes that they both present. For example, the issue of Lea as a young girl in war-torn surroundings, whose parents’ fate is unknown, could be emotional to a reader. At the same time, the issue of Danny, living as a subject for experiments, is an emotional thriller. Therefore, it was wise of the authors in each of these narrations to take an authoritative stand and avoid intimacy with the readers, so as to remain objective in their narratives. This sheds the light that the issues discussed in the two narratives take eminence in importance than the relationship between the reader and the narrator.
The authors of the two narratives have some contrast in their third-person limited omniscient modes. In the Shadows of a Childhood, the author narrates of her own childhood. In this case, she is not alienated from the events of the novel. In contrast to this, the author of "*BD* 11 1 86" is remote from the events of his story. The connection between the author and the events of the story is important in these two narratives, because it determines the method with which they draw the attention of the readers. Shadows of a Childhood is captivating and draws the readers to identify themselves with the events of the story, as the author narrates from within the world of the narrative. This is, however, not the case with “*BD* 11 1 86”. Although the events of the story are not strange in the world of science, at present, the readers cannot identify with them as they are obviously too remote.
The other notable contrast of the two modes is in their points of view. The narrator in “*BD* 11 1 86” has a variable point of view. This narrator can adjust the view of the events of the narration as he wishes; for example, he, at times, takes the reader back to history, then flashes forward and creates suspense to the story from time to time. The narrator also depicts thoughts and viewpoints of several characters. For example, the narrator assumes the position of the counselor Mrs. Jameson (Oates 3); Clare appears to be the narrator (Oates 14) towards the end of the story, but the narrator avoids sometimes assuming Danny’s position, probably to stress on the secrecy connected with the situation he was involved in or to show the denial of human rights subjected to Danny by the enlightened people. The narrator’s alienation from Danny’s position heightens the fear, which was revealed by Clare and hinted by the elderly people in Danny’s community, that the processes of body donations were string-pulled by highly influential people in the society.
The narrator in Shadows of a Childhood has a rather rigid field of view. This is because she assumes the position of the girl, Lea, and observes events from her point of view. The narrator does not shift from one character to another as it is in “*BD* 11 1 86”. This narrator is obliged not to hint on important issues of other characters in the story. Everything is about Lea, and other characters are used to uncover something about the girl. For instance, the narrator had to use the teenage boy to reveal the fate of Lea’s parents (Gille 14).
The third-person limited omniscient narrators have been shown to be effective in the discourse of sensitive issues of the society as they are not intimate with the readers. They, therefore, enable to approach and reveal the issues authoritatively and objectively. Such narrators’ points of view are effective in both works, Shadows of a Childhood and “*BD* 11 1 86”.