The Effect of the Point of View in "Double Indemnity", Novel and Screenplay

A Comparison

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The point of view in novels

3. The point of view in screenplays

4. The effect of the point of view in the novel “Double Indemnity”
4.1 Foreshadowing
4.2 Guiding the affection of the reader

5. The effect of the point of view in the screenplay “Double Indemnity”
5.1 Foreshadowing
5.2 Guiding the affection of the audience

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In 1927 a woman named Ruth Snyder, and a man named Judd Gray were sentenced to death by the electric chair, because they murdered the husband of Ruth, Albert Snyder. They murdered him for a 48,000$ life insurance with a double indemnity clause in it. Both of them also had an affair going before they decided to murder Ruth's husband. Judd Gray was a corset salesman. Present to the trial, was James M. Cain, at that time working as a reporter. Many believe that this case gave Cain the idea to one of his most famous novels, “Double Indemnity”. Several signs lead to that conclusion. First of all Ruth was unhappily married and began an affair with a salesman. Secondly her husband was already married once, before he married Ruth, but his first wife died of pneumonia. Furthermore the both of them had a daughter named Lorraine, who shares the same first two letters in her name with the Lola in “Double Indemnity”, daughter of Mr. and Ms. Nirdlinger. Moreover Ruth's husband was killed for the money of his life insurance, which contained a double indemnity clause. And last but not least they tried to disguise the murder as an accident, to collect on the double indemnity (see

Many say, that “Double Indemnity” was one of Cain's masterpieces, and it got made into a movie, which was named after the novel. It is even said, by some, to have heavily influenced the roman noir genre, as the movie is said to have had a great impact on the film noir genre (see Skenazy, 34/134; Marling, 263). The aim of this term paper is not to give an overview what is roman, or film noir. It is just going to point out one specific feature of both of the genres, and will try to give an explanation what makes this feature so special. The feature spoken of is the point of view (or perspective, or focalisation).

First off there will be the chapters two and three concerning the theoretical background of the point of view in novels and screenplays. This will be done rather short and rough, because this term paper is focused more on the effect of the point of view, than the way it is structured. Chapters four and five then go into detail on the point of view in “Double Indemnity”, novel and screenplay. Over the course of these two chapters, two special effects will be highlighted, the 'Foreshadowing' and the way, in which the reader's, or the audience's estimation of the characters is influenced. This is followed in the last chapter by a conclusion.

2. The point of view in novels

I consulted both English and German articles on the point of view, but just to make it easier, I will quote only in English, translating the German quotes.

F. K. Stanzel's theory of the point of view, which he published in “Typische Formen des Romans” in 1964, was for a long time the reference text, when it came to discussing the point of view in narrations. According to him narratology solely depended on the narrator of a story. He distinguished between three major categories, namely the omniscient (also referred to as authorial, or auctorial), the personal and the I-narrator. The omniscient narrator is not personally involved in the actions, which take place in the narration. As some kind of transcendental being, the narrator is floating above the participants of the story, invisible to their eyes, telling and commenting on the events that proceed, with insight on the inner thoughts of the observed persons. This type of narrator communicates through his comments (mostly implicitly) with the reader. This way, it is possible to have a story told from multiple perspectives, whereas with the I-narrator the reader is bound to one character of the story, that is present (although not necessarily participating) at every event that occurs. (see Metzler, 207f; Finke, 14)

The second type of narrator is the personal narrator. The narration also comes from outside the actual story, but the narrator is fixed to a certain person, or a certain group of people, which he 'follows'. He could be imagined as an inactive third party, that is present all the time, but never taking part in the action. With this image in mind, it could be easily explained, why this narrator adapts to the language of the participants and leaves most events without comment. He's not aware of a listener to his story. Stanzl also speaks of a neutral narrator, which is to him a subcategory of the personal narrator. With this type of narration the reader gets the feeling of being present, when the events proceed, but there is no narrator to mediate between the story and the reader. This would be the case, when one reads a drama, which is written to be performed. (see Metzler, 207f; Finke, 14f)

The I-narrator, in contrary, is well aware of a reader. He's the one who gets into contact with the reader most explicitly, by commenting on the events and asking rhetorical questions. This narrator is also the one most restricted, or limited in his views. The reader follows one person in the story and only gets insight in his thoughts and feelings, if any. Because sometimes even an I-narrator can just lead the reader through the story without any personal comment at all. If the story is told through an I-narrator, a further distinction is necessary, between the 'narrating I' and the 'experiencing I'. The 'narrating I' is the one in contact with the reader, as would be Huff telling the story to us. He's not participating in the events he describes (because they are past), that would be the 'experiencing I'. The latter mentioned would also be the one getting into conversations with other people of the story. (see Metzler, 207f; Finke, 14)

It soon became clear, that there were numerous cases, where this classification could not be applied without any difficulties. This is why Stanzl got superseded by the theories of Gerard Genette. Genette made clear that a strict categorisation of several types of narrators wouldn't work. Instead one has to establish certain criteria of narration, such as knowledge about inner thoughts, perspective from which is narrated, is there any direct speech, or just reported speech. He uses the term diegesis to distinguish several features of a narration. “In a 'homodiegetic' narration, the narrator is a part of the diegesis (...), whereas the narrator of a 'heterodiegetic' narration does not number among the persons of his narration, and therefore is situated on the outside of the narrated world” (Metzler, 156f). There's a further division into extra-, intra- and metadiegetic narration. These terms concern the level of narration. An extradiegetic narration would be the narrator speaking to the reader, so every part of narration outside the narrated story. Intradiegetic would then be the story itself, which is told, and metadiegetic narration would be a story told inside a story. Such a thing occurs for example in “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett, where Gutman tells the story of the falcon to Spade. In “Double Indemnity” you would have Huff, as an extradiegetic and homodiegetic narrator, while all the dialogues in the story and maybe even the last pages, when Huff narrates in the present tense would be intradiegetic narration. Genette, like Stanzl, is also heavily and diversely discussed nowadays, and not to be seen as a generally applicable theory.

But to go into further detail would lead to far, so I will stop here and take Stanzl and Genette as a basis for discussing the effect of Huff as a narrator in the novel.

3. The point of view in screenplays

To get to a certain pattern how the point of view in screenplays could be described, theorists often approached that field of research with a pattern from literary narratology, such as the two above mentioned. These patterns were then applied on screenplays and analysed, if the terminology and the meaning behind it could also be used for describing film narratology. Markus Kuhn, as well as Sabine Schlickers, are two of these researchers in the field of film narratology and they both used the “communication model of literary narratology” (Kuhn, 81). This model always distinguishes between a sender and a receiver on different levels of communication. On the 'level of real communication' the author of a text would be the sender, whereas the real reader (has to be distinguished from the implicit reader) would be the receiver. The simple model only consists of three levels. The 'level of real communication', the 'level of narrative mediation', and the 'level of the narrated'. A second model, of which the formerly mentioned is the basis, is made more complex, and uses the terminology of Genette, with 'intra-', 'extra-', and 'metadiegetic levels' (see Kuhn, 8Iff). In the following I will focus only on Kuhn's theory, since Schlickers' approach is, despite a view differences in terminology ('metadiegetic' becomes 'hypodiegetic'), quite the same (see Schlickers, 244ff).

Kuhn then tries to apply these two patterns, the simple and the complex one, on film narratology. To pick up the example from above, the real director and the film crew (which also includes the screenplay-writer) would be the sender, and the real audience would be the receiver on the first level of communication, which is the 'level of real communication'. He uses the term 'narrative mediation' for the second level, just as in the literary model, but then renames the third level to “screenplay/diegetic world” (Kuhn, 84). But he admits that a lot of inconsistencies remain with such a simple model. So he applies the second, more complex model on film narratology. This one consists of at least five levels. The first and the second levels are the 'extra-', and 'intratextual levels' with a real (extratextual) director and film crew, and an implicit (intratextual) director, and a real (extratextual) and an implicit (intratextual) audience. Then the three levels of 'extra-', intra'-, and 'metadiegesis' follow. It is to mention, that after the 'level of metadiegesis' several 'levels of metametadiegesis' can follow, but this has no effect on the pattern, and is completely optional (it doesn't occur in every screenplay). On the 'level of extradiegesis' we have the instance of visual narration, which is obligatory in screenplays, and the instance(s) of verbal narration, which is/are facultative, on the sender's side. The extradiegetic recipient is placed on the receiver's side. The 'level of intradiegesis' consists on the sender's side of participants, which narrate, or internal visual communication, whereas on the receiver's side of participants as recipients. The 'level of metadiegesis' would then consist of narrated persons, which tell a story to a narrated recipient, and this can then be repeated over and over depending on the director's intentions (see Kuhn, 83ff).

Kuhn explains further why the visual narration has to be obligatory, whereas the verbal narration is facultative. It's quite simple. In a screenplay there have to be visual images, otherwise it wouldn't be a screenplay. But verbal narration, which ranges from actual voices of the participants, noises of the environment, voice-over, signs with text on it, to text inserts, is not always necessary in screenplays. For example silent movies come along completely without voices, but have, at least sometimes, text inserts as one form of verbal narration (see Kuhn, 84ff). But there's not a single movie without pictures, although there are sometimes scenes in movies, where a narrator tells something, but the audience doesn't get an image, or scenery right away. This would be called a black screen, although these black screens only last a view seconds in most cases, for example in crossfades. One exception would be the opening of the “Lord of the Rings”, where a narrator is already speaking, but the screen remains black for almost 30 seconds.

The thing that makes a theory of film narratology that difficult is, that in contrary to novels, one has to consider all the different parts that together build up a scene. There's the director who had a certain intention, the actors that act in a certain way (either only moving, or speaking, or doing both at the same time, and sometimes improvise), the camera angle that can be focused on only a face, or showing long distances, the voices in the background that can be just noises, or other voices of other actors, or voice-over, and many other things. In a novel the reader only faces the text, and the rest is up to his/her imagination.

I will not go into further detail on this topic, because for the analysis of the novel and screenplay it is enough to know the rough layout of these models.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


The Effect of the Point of View in "Double Indemnity", Novel and Screenplay
A Comparison
University of Würzburg  (Neuphilologisches Institut)
Film Noir and Literature (Hauptseminar)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
440 KB
From 5.1 onwards, the individual chapters are becoming briefer and less substantial. You fail to discuss which of the differences between novel and film are due to the different media and which are deliberate. Still, a very interesting analysis, with one major flaw: You ought to have adressed the "flashback technique" of the film and the resulting subjectivity of the version of events rendered within the flashbacks. Hence (only) 1.3
noir fiction, film noir, double indemnity, roman noir, point of view, focalization, point of view in novels, point of view in screenplays
Quote paper
Kay Scheffler (Author), 2012, The Effect of the Point of View in "Double Indemnity", Novel and Screenplay, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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