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The Narrator

... The narrator is the most central concept in the analysis of narrative texts. The identity of the
narrator, the degree to which and the manner in which that identity is indicated in the text, and
the choices that are implied lend the text its specific eharaeter. This topie is closely related to
the notion

of focalization,

with which

it has, traditionally,

been

identified.

Narrator

and

focalization together determine what has been called narration - ineorrectly, beca use only the
narrator narrates, i.e. utters language which may be termed narrative since it represents a story.
The focalizor. .. is an aspect of the story this narrator tells. It s the represented 'colouring' of the
fabula by a specific agent of perception, the holder of the 'point of view.' ...
This is, emphatieally,

not to say that the narrator should not be analysed

in relation to the

fcalizing agent. On the contrary, precisely when the connection between these two agents is
not self-evident, it becomes easier to gain insight into the complexity of the re!ationship between
the three agents that function in the three layers - the narrator, the focalizor, the actor - and
those moments at which they do or do not overlap in the shape of a single 'person.' This nonoverlap also holds for narratives in visual media

't and 'He'

are both 'i'

.... As soon as there is language, there is a speaker who utters it; as soon as those linguistic
utterances

constitute

a narrative

text, there

is a narrator,

a narrating

subject.

From

grammatical point of view, this is always a 'first person.' In fact, the term 'third-person narrator' is
absurd: a narrator is not a 'he' or 's he.' At best the narrator can narrate about someone else, a
'he' or 'she' - who might, incidentally, happen to be a narrator as well Of course, this does not
imply that the distinction between 'first-person' and 'third-person'

narratives is itself invalid. Just

compare the following sentences:

1 I shal/ be twenty-one tomorrow.


2 Elizabeth will be twenty-one tomorrow .

.. We may rewrite both sentences as:

(1 say:) 1 shall be twenty-one tomorrow.


(1 say:) Elizabeth will be twenty-one tomorrow.
Both sentences are uUered by a speaking subject, an '1'. The difference rests in the object of the
utterance. In 1 the '1' speaks about itself. In 2 the '1' speaks about someone else. When in a text
the narrator never refers explicitly to itself as a character, we may, again, speak of an external
narrator (EN). After all, the narrating agent does not figure in the fabula as an actor. On the
other hand, if the '1' is to be identified with a character in the fabula it itself narrates, we speak of
a character-bound

narrator, a

e N.

This difference between an E N and a

e N,

a narrator that tells about others and a narrator

that tells about him -or herself- such a narrator is personified


narrative rhetoric of 'truth.' A

eN

- entails a difference

in the

usually proclairns that it recounts true facts about her- or

-_._-------------'

himself. 'lt' pretends to be writing 'her' autobiography,


fantastic, absurd, metaphysical.

even if the fbula is blatantly implausibie,

... The narrative rhetoric of a C N is therefore here indicated by

the addition:
(1 narrate: (1 state autobiographically:))

I felt somewhat tired that day.

The rhetoric of an EN may also be used to present a story about others as true. We may
indicate this as follows:

(1 narrate: (1 testify:)) Elizabeth felt somewhat tired that day.

On the other hand, the rhetoric sometimes points to the presence of invention. Indications that
the narrator is out to tel! a fictive story and wants the readers to know it are, for instance,
narrations of impossible or unknowable situations, or generic indications such as 'Once upon a
time ... " which is often present at the beginning of a fairy tale, and subtitles such as 'A Novel' or
'A Winter's Tale.' These indications suggest fictionality

The fabula is fictitious, invented.

Al! Kinds of 'l's


(It may be that) the '1,' the narrative subject, is not a character in the story it narrates, (or that)
the narrator is also a character.
(Once you) ... have full contextual information on a particular event, you may be faced with the
following schemes:

Scheme 1

The event is based upon a certan perception, in which an actor (e.g. A1) is involved.

The perception triggers a response on another actor (e.q. A2), the character-bound

focalizor

(CF).

The intricacies of the two previous items are narrated by a linguistic subject outside the
event itself, the external narrating agent (EN)

If we want to indicate briefly how the sentence works, we might also formulate it like this:
EN [CF (A2)-A 1].
The narrator, the focalizor, and the actor are each of different identity.

Scheme 2
(Another possibility is that of) ... a narrator whose intention is to relate the events of its own
life in a story which will explain its eventual outcome. This means that the narrator narrates and
also states autobiagraphically

in arder to explain.

The situation then is as follows:

The event as in Scheme 1

Actor 2 perceives the event.

Actor 2 also becomes the narrating agent.


Thus we have:

CN (A2) [CF (A2)-A 1]

Two of the three agents have the same name and the same identity.

Scheme 3

The event as in Scheme 1.

The focalizor as in Scheme 1.

The narrator names itself. but is not a character in the fabula. However, it does more than
just refer to its identity as "l". In fact, it presents explanations

which might denote pa rtia lity

towards one of the characters against another.


This becomes a case of double focalization,

that of the anonymous focalizor which may be

located in the narrative agent, and that of the character to which it is partial:
EF [CF (A2)]-A 1,
or, with an indication of the levels of focalization:
EF1 [CF2 (A2)]-A1
Thus there is a partial coincidence of two of the three agents, while there are still three different
identities at play ...

Scheme4
The narrator is also an actor, for example, when there are references to previous encounters
(such as telephone calls, conversations,

etc.) between the actor and the agent referring to itself

as '1'. The actor '1,' which, from the point of view of identity, coincides with the narrator, is,
however, probably not important from the point of view of action. It stands apart, observes the
events, and relates the story according to its point of view. A narrator of this type is a witness.
The question whether the story that it tells is invented can no longer be asked. The text is full of
indications that the story must be considered 'true.' Of course, this do es not prove that it is also
true; it merely speaks for the implied claim of the narrator. The interpretation of this sentence is:

(1 narrate: (1 declare as witness:)) The event. Since the narrator so clearly pretends to testify, it
must also, supposedly,
with the character-bound

make olear how it got its information ....

Then focalization

is localized

narrator who refers to itself and is, therefore, perceptible in the texto In

that case the formula is

1
CN ('/) [CF ('I1-A1]

Now both narration and focalization rest with the CN, the anonymous witness who is yet an '1'.

In these (schemes) we have seen four different narrative situations. In 1 and 3 the narrator
stood outside the fabula and in 2 and 4 it did not. In 1 the focalizor was a character. In 3 we
considered a case of embedded focalization, since here we saw an infiltration of external agents
into the story. In 2 the identification of the agents was closest: the narrator and the focalizor
were both the character (A2). In 4, finally, narrator and focalizor coincided; however, unlike 2,
not in the identity of one of the active actors, but in the identity of a witness.
With these analyses, the fundamental distinction mentioned earlier between a narrative '1'
that talks about itself and a narrative '1' that speaks of others has proven toa general. More
distinctions between the various 'I's are called for to get a finer picture. Sometimes the narrative
'1' exclusively narrates, as in 1; it may also perceive, as in 2, 3, and 4; and it may also act, as in

2 and 4. When it acts, this action may remain limited to testimony, as in 4. The traditional
distinction between 'I'-narratives and 'he'-narratives is, as we see, inadequate not only for
terminological reasons. The difference between 1 and 3 would remain inarticulate because the
infiltration of the '1' into the story is neglected. In some narratives, the narrative situations
analysed here - that is, the different relationships of the ,narrative '1' to the object of narration are constant within each narrative text. This means that one can immediately, already on the
first page, see which is the narrative situation. But the narrative situation can also change.
Displacernents occur especially between 1 and 3. A narrator may remain imperceptible tor a
long time, but suddenly begin to refer to itself, sometimes in such a subtle manner that the
reader hardly nofices.
However, focalization need not in every case always remain with the same agent.
Technically it would be almost impossible to maintain such continuity....
BAL, MiEKE (1988) Narratology: An Introduction

lo the Theory of Narrative, Toronto U'P.