Controlling point of view

I’ve been reading Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. It is the third of the Neapolitan Novels series. I’ve found them all compelling. The book is narrated in a distant remembering first-person. Notice how completely and naturally this narrating character moves within the inner lives of other characters/people in her life:

He wasn’t in a good mood, in fact he seemed emptied of energy, as if the practice of violence had swallowed up his craving for action. . . . Certainly he was bothered by the critical tone she had used in alluding to the morning’s expedition. He’s convinced, Lila thought, that I don’t understand why he hit Gino like that, why he wanted to beat up the guard. Good or bad, all men believe that after every one of their undertakings you have to put them on an altar as if they were St. George slaying the dragon. He considers me ungrateful, he did it to avenge me, he would like me to at least say thank you.

The quotation begins and ends one paragraph, though I haven’t quoted the paragraph in its entirety.

Context lets readers know that this paragraph begins with the narrator’s female friend interpreting a male they both know. We’re reminded that we’re inside Lila’s head by the attribution “Lila thought” which also creates an opportunity for an “I” (in “that I don’t understand why”) besides the “I” of the first-person narrator (who rarely uses the first-person pronoun, probably strategically, making room for others’ use of it). The next sentence is unattributed, but it seems likely that readers will see it as another of Lila’s thoughts. The sentence after that comes from deep within Lila’s consciousness, deep enough that it includes “me.” This sentence reveals the most about her, her perception of the guy she’s thinking about, and significantly the first-person narrator. That first-person narrator’s interpretation of her friend and their mutual friend also characterizes the narrator. It allows her to write in first-person and move deeply within another character’s inner life in compelling, but not confusing, ways.

So, to characterize, consider the following technique: a minimal, distant remembering first-person that uses an explicit attribution of feeling or thought (“Lila thought”), followed by an “I” referencing that other character (Lila), at least a sentence that can be considered more of that other character’s thoughts (the “St. George” sentence), and then a sentence deep within the other character, one that references that character explicitly, with “me,” in this case.

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