1. What is it?

Third person narration is the description of action by a removed narrator (i.e. a narrator outside the action). It does not use ‘I’ or ‘you’, but refers to characters by their names or the pronouns.

Note: Third person narration refers to the whole narration; it does not matter if a character momentarily speaks in first or second person

2. Why use it?

Great degree of flexibilityCan move any character
 Easy to present whole landscape and setting, even if characters cannot see itNot limited to one character’s perspective

3. Examples

Ruffalo woke. Stretching his arm out he found his phone, easy via repetition, and checked the time: 2:08. Beside him his wife, Enid, was still asleep, quietly snoring and occasionally shifting as a dream disturbed her. If such things were possible, Ruffalo might have seen the visions seeping out into the night, a piece of her soul used and discarded. He might have wondered where dreams go when they are obsolete, or considered what other hidden waters were in the well of his partner’s mind, and whether he knew her at all. But he did not see or wonder anything. He barely engaged in thought at all, but automatically rose from bed so he could check his social media in the isolation of another room.

The sound of the planes overhead shook the windows and made the children nervous. They were too young to be truly frightened because they did not yet comprehend the atrocities of war, but they all sensed fear, and a few of the more aware felt a truth, deeper in the heart and stomach and mind than their peers could manage. This truth was that the adult world, of Mrs Johnson and Principal Stokes and Janitor Roberts, was not as idyllic as the confines of school pretended. Outside, in the environments in which adults talked to adults, organising everything, there was a deficiency of goodness. Kitty Jones knew it best, because it was the same tension she saw at home when Father raged at Mother and Kitty was sent to her room until the noise and wickedness stopped.

4. Examples in literature

The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde

Know Your Book

Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Author: Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Published: 1890
Language: English
Genre: Fiction; Gothic fiction
Plot: Dorian Gray is an attractive young man who socialises with Lord Henry, a bad influence who teaches Dorian that beauty is the only worthwhile pursuit in life.  Receiving a painting from artist Basil Hallward, Dorian wishes the artwork would age instead of him, allowing him to keep his good looks. This wish is granted. Destined to forever look young and beautiful, Dorian begins a hedonistic life filled with sin.
Setting: Upper-class Victorian England
Characters: Dorian Gray; Basil Hallward; Lord Henry; Sibyl

Excerpt from Chapter 3:

At half-past twelve the next day Lord Henry Wotton strolled from Curzon Street over to the Albany to call on his uncle, Lord Fermor, a genial if somewhat rough-mannered old bachelor, whom the outside world called selfish, because it derived no particular benefit from him, but was considered generous by Society as he fed the people who amused him. His father had been our ambassador at Madrid when Isabella was young, and Prim unthought of, but had retired from the Diplomatic Service in a capricious moment of annoyance at not being offered the Embassy at Paris, a post to which he considered he was fully entitled by reason of his birth, his indolence, the good English of his dispatches, and his inordinate passion for pleasure. The son, who had been his father’s secretary, had resigned along with his chief, somewhat foolishly as was thought at the time, and succeeding some months later to the title, had set himself to the serious study of the great aristocratic art of doing absolutely nothing. He had two large town houses, but preferred to live in chambers, as it was less trouble, and took most of his meals at his club. He paid some attention to the management of his collieries in the Midland counties, excusing himself for this taint of industry on the ground that the one advantage of having coal was that it enabled a gentleman to afford the decency of burning wood on his own hearth. In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories were in office, during which period he roundly abused them for being a bunch of Radicals. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a terror to most of his relations, whom he bullied in turn. Only England could have produced him, and he always said the country was going to the dogs. His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his prejudices.

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. Who was the British Ambassador in Spain?
2. In what industry does Lord Fermor make his money?
3. Which political party does Lord Fermor support? 
Identifying Techniques

4. How do you know the passage is written in third person narration?
5. In the passage, Wilde writes about Lord Wotton, Lord Wotton’s uncle, and Lord Wotton’s uncle’s father. What would this have looked like in first or second narration? Would it have worked?
6. In one case, Wilde unusually slips into first person plural narration. Where does this occur? Does this affect the place and identity of the reader, the narrator, and the writer? 
Text Analysis

7. Using contrast and juxtaposition, Wilde names several direct examples of Lord Fermor’s hypocrisy. What are they?
8. What similarities are there between the personality of Lord Fermor and his father?
9. Wilde uses several adjectives in this passage that negatively describe the upper-class. Underline the adjectives that describe this group of people in a negative way.
10. Is Lord Fermor a man of action, or one who gained status via birth? How does the author treat these two ideas? 
Provoking Opinion

11. The passage jokingly describes the upper-class as hypocritical, selfish, and even ridiculous. Is this fair? How do you feel about such people in society? Why?
12. Wilde’s father was knighted for his services to medicine. Wilde’s own education included Trinity College and Oxford University. He was also a keen Irish nationalist. Do you think the background of a writer affects the authenticity of his descriptions of a group or class of people?
13. Both at the time of his writing and later, Wilde’s personal life and reputation as a wit gained as much fame as his writing. Do you think personal reputation changes the way people look at an author’s writing? If so, can you think of any examples?
14. The Picture of Dorian Gray looks at how a person would react if, no matter how badly they behaved, they remained beautiful and consequently loved. In Dorian Gray’s case, it ruins him. How do you think it would change you?  

The American
by Henry James

Know Your Book

Title: The American
Author: Henry James (1843-1916)
Published: 1877
Language: English
Genre: Fiction; social comedy
Plot: Christopher Newman, an American businessman, embarks on The Grand Tour. In Paris he meets a struggling artist, Noémie, and an aristocratic widow, Claire. He proposes to Claire, but his ‘new money’ background is not to her family’s taste. Meanwhile, Claire’s brother, Valentin, begins a relationship with Noémie. The siblings find themselves caught between ‘old world’ customs and liberty, leading to trouble, while Noémie sells out.
Setting: Paris, Geneva, Poitiers, New York, San Francisco
Characters: Christopher Newman; Valentin; Claire; Noémie; Monsieur Nioche

Excerpt from Chapter 15:

“Drop that girl, short, ” said Newman; “don’t go near her again, and your future will do. Come over to America and I will get you a place in a bank.”
“It is easy to say drop her,” said Valentin, with a light laugh. “You can’t drop a pretty woman like that. One must be polite, even with Noémie. Besides, I’ll not have her suppose I am afraid of her.”
“So, between politeness and vanity, you will get deeper into the mud? Keep them both for something better. Remember, too, that I didn’t want to introduce you to her; you insisted. I had a sort of uneasy feeling about it.”
“Oh, I don’t reproach you,” said Valentin. “Heaven forbid! I wouldn’t for the world have missed knowing her. She is really extraordinary. The way she has already spread her wings is amazing. I don’t know when a woman has amused me more. But excuse me,” he added in an instant; “she doesn’t amuse you, at  second hand, and the subject is an impure one. Let us talk about something else.” Valentin introduced another topic, but within five minutes Newman observed that, by a bold transition, he had reverted to Mademoiselle Nioche, and was giving pictures of her manners and quoting specimens of her mots. These were very witty, and, for a young woman who six months before had been painting the most artless madonnas, startlingly cynical. But at last, abruptly, he stopped, became thoughtful, and for some time afterwards said nothing. When he rose to go it was evident that his thoughts were still running upon Mademoiselle Nioche.
“Yes, she’s a frightful little monster!” he said.

1. The use of third person narration allows the story to

a) make the writer a character in his story
b) sound more authentic
c) blur fact with fiction
d) talk directly to the reader
e) move between characters and their ideas

2. Which of these is Valentin impressed by?

a) Mademoiselle Nioche’s new maturity
b) Newman’ lifestyle
c) English society’s manners
d) His own intelligence
e) The job offer in America

3. “She doesn’t amuse you, at second hand, and the subject is an impure one.” Valentin says this because he thinks

a) Mademoiselle Nioche is not worth talking about
b) Newman doesn’t want to discuss this matter
c) They should be discussing business
d) The topic is sordid
e) He finds the subject boring and wants to talk about something else

4. The word ‘mots’ could be replaced by

a) words
b) abilities
c) ideas
d) witty remarks
e) philosophies

5. Both the passages from The Picture of Dorian Gray and The American have characters that could be described as

a) wicked
b) uneducated
c) hypocritical
d) egotistical
e) oppressed


5. Tasks

Task 1: Write a descriptive or action paragraph using third person narration. It may involve one or more characters.
Task 2: Write a scene in the third person narrative voice, but which includes dialogues or internal monologues conducted in the first or second person.