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Second Person Point of View

Second Person Point of View

Author: Sydney Bauer
Description:
This lesson introduces the second person point of view.
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Tutorial

 

Second Person Point of View 

A narrative told from the second person perspective is directed at a second party (using second person pronoun “you”). The use of the word “you” automatically implies the presence of another and creates a problem when identifying characters. This second party could be…

  • the reader of the story (in which case, the author is making the reader a part of the story)
  • the narrator (assumed to be using “you” in a general sense or simply talking to him or herself)
  • no one in particular (sometimes considered a hypothetical second party)
  • revealed as a character from the narrative later on

 

Second person narration can use the word “you” to apply to every person so that the narrative can address a cultural or universal condition or belief. It can also use the word “you” to invite the reader to become a character and take part in the story.

 

Although second person narration is common in Choose Your Own Adventure books, it is generally rare in fiction.

 

Second person narration can be disorienting to some readers. It has been described as powerful and striking because it is such a departure from the perspectives that readers normally expect. It has also been described as aggressive and tiresome because it demands that the reader participate in the narrative rather than observe.

 

Second person vs. general or hypothetical use of “you”

Though narratives can change in point of view or perspective, a narrator can use the word “you” and appear to be directly addressing the reader without slipping into second person point of view.

 

In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, the narration is presented from first and third person points of view. The narrators use the word “you” as a rhetorical device to talk generally about a topic, but they do not switch to second person narration:

  • “By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others.”

 

This is quite different from Margaret Atwood’s short story “Happy Endings,” which is told from both a second and a third person point of view. In the tradition of Choose Your Own Adventure novels, Atwood sets a simple scene and provides the reader with options:

  • John and Mary meet.
    What happens next?
    If you want a happy ending, try A.

 

Here the use of the word “you” is not necessarily rhetorical, it is a direct address to a specific reader who is meant to choose between the “happy endings.” Each option is offered up to the reader:

  • “If you like, it can be ‘Madge,’ ‘cancer,’ ‘guilty and confused,’ and ‘bird watching.’

    “If you think this is all too bourgeois, make John a revolutionary and Mary a counterespionage agent and see how far that gets youYou’ll still end up with A, though in between you may get a lustful saga of passionate involvement.

    You’ll have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it.”

 

The novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid, also uses a form of second person point of view. The narrator directly addresses an unnamed American male tourist with “you” and proceeds to talk to this unnamed person. Although the narrator uses “I” and tells stories that are in the first person, it is clear that the stories are told to someone other than the reader and that the author has invited the reader to take on the persona of the tourist.

 

  • “I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my service.”