Point of view in Alfred Edgar Coppard’s "Some Talk of Alexander"

Seminar Paper, 2005

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction: defining and categorizing ‘point of view’

2. The importance of ‘point of view’ in literary analysis

3. Alfred Edgar Coppard’s short story

4. Analysis of Some Talk of Alexander
4.1. Focalization
4.2. Directing the reader’s sympathy: an onomastic analysis
4.3. The use of irony

5. Synopsis

6. References

1. Introduction: defining and categorizing ‘point of view’

The pre-structuralist term ‘point of view’, even though during the last decades it has become essential for literary scholarship, is in itself highly ambiguous and therefore is in need of discussion and clarification. As Chatman (1978: 152) has pointed out, even the ordinary use of the term covers three distinct phenomena: the visual perception he terms ‘perceptual’, personal attitudes named ‘conceptual’ and a person’s interests which he names ‘interest’ point of view.

When used in literary discussion, the term ‘point of view’ not seldom confounds two similar but different notions: that of narration – or, in Genette’s words, “who speaks”, the way the story is presented – and that of focalization – or as Genette called it ‘who sees’ or ‘who perceives’, a “selection of narrative information” (Genette: 74; cf. Jahn, 1996: 1). Also Rimmon-Kenan (1991: 72) states: “[A] person (and, by analogy, a narrative agent) is also capable of undertaking to tell what another person sees or has seen. Thus, speaking and seeing, narration and focalization, may, but need not, be attributed to the same agent.” As this distinction appears to be fundamental and is generally agreed with (cf. BAL, 1996: 116), it seems appropriate to henceforth talk of ‘focalization’ when referring to “the relations between the elements presented and the vision through which they are presented” (ibid.), or as Prince puts it “[t]he perceptual or conceptual position in terms of which the narrated situations and events are presented” (Prince, 1989: 73). That means, not including the “linguistically generated illusion of a voice factor which can be defined empirically by a complex set of interrelated textual and contextual features and is corroborated by a mimetic reading of the text that stimulates this projection of a speaker or reflector function” (Fludernik 1996: 344).

Having thus separated focalization from narration/voice, there still remains the question of what this includes. Mieke Bal differentiates between the focalizor [sic!], the subject of focalization from whose perspective the story is seen, and the focalized, all the story elements that are target of the focalization (cf. Bal 1996: 118 seqq.). Even though Gérard Genette (1988: 76) dismisses this differentiation as showing no purpose, I think it a good way of stating more precisely what is found at either end of the story’s focus, as both who directs the focus and what is at his centre of attention may convey information about the presentation of the story.

Finally, Monika Fludernik (1996: 345) also points out the importance of Chatman’s distinction between slant and filter, the former being “an evaluative frame of mind on the part of the narrator” (ibid.), a restriction of given knowledge (cf. Genette 1988: 74, 78), while only the latter really deals with perception, respectively the way events are perceived through the story’s focal characters, the ‘filters’. This distinction also dismisses the notion of ‘external focalization’ actually being determined by the perception of events (since it is characterized rather by the degree of information provided by the narrator; cf. Genette 1988: 78). This mainly leaves the categories of ‘internal focalization’ through (a) focal character(s) or the ‘zero focalization’ of an unlocatable focalizer as the two main categories decided by focalization (cf. Prince 1989: 31 seq.).

2. The importance of ‘point of view’ in literary analysis

Why make the effort of discussing the notion of ‘point of view’ or more precisely ‘focalization’? Since the times of Aristotle the different kinds of narrating a story have been regarded as being essential for the effect of a narrative on its readers, even though narration ‘only’ determines the way a story is mediated. Focalization on the other hand determines how all the elements of the story are perceived by its characters (or an external viewpoint), subtly giving judgement on the story’s events, objects and participants without making the reader fully aware of it.

Furthermore, focalization directly influences the reader’s reception of the story and his sympathy for its characters. As Seymour Chatman (1978: 157) has put it:

Access to a character’s consciousness is the standard entree to his point of view, the usual and quickest means by which we come to identify with him. Learning his thoughts insures an intimate connection. The thoughts are truthful, except in cases of willful self-deception. Unlike the narrator, the character can only be ‘unreliable’ to himself.

It is thus that ‘point of view’ or ‘focalization’ is vital for the effect of every piece of literature, even non-mediated genres.

3. Alfred Edgar Coppard’s short story

The judgement of Frank Edmund Smith is clear: “Coppard wrote a handful of the best short stories of the English language and […] contributed significantly to the movement of the short story from being a truncated novel to acquiring its own form” (1996: 67). Alfred Edgar Coppard’s short stories surely have proven worth a closer examination, and that is why I undertake to delve into one his late works, Some Talk of Alexander, written in 1937. As Bender (1981: 1200) well describes: “It is true that many of his late tales pursue in a more thoughtful and comic matter the natural and psychological forces in life […]”, thereby also depicting the characters’ struggle against themselves, their denial of their own true nature (cf. id.: 1199). This description also fits the short story I chose for a closer examination, and regarding the importance of focalization for literary analysis mentioned before, the focus of my work will be on the story’s perception, namely on its focalization in general and on the means used to present the main character the way the reader may perceive him.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Point of view in Alfred Edgar Coppard’s "Some Talk of Alexander"
http://www.uni-jena.de/  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
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Volker Lorenz (Author), 2005, Point of view in Alfred Edgar Coppard’s "Some Talk of Alexander", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/93553


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