Narrator – Concept, function, types, characteristics and examples

We explain what the narrator is, its function and the characteristics of each type. In addition, various examples from world literature.

The presence of the narrator allows one to distinguish the narrative from other forms of literature.

What is the narrator?

In narrative and literature, a narrator is called the textual voice that tells the story told, whether it is a character of it, or not. Through him we know the story and the characters, so that there can be no story without a narrator.

The presence of the narrator is the key element to distinguish the narrative from any other form of literary art, much more than the plot and the characters. In poetry, essays or dramaturgy, your intervention is never necessary.

It is considered a mediator between the events narrated and the reader: a mediation that can take place in very different terms, whether they are reliable or not, more or less detailed and, in general, from a specific point of view in relation to the story.

The narrator is, then, the one who is responsible for communicating what happened, controlling the amount and speed of the information revealed, and often giving a specific emotional charge to what has been said, or using a specific language to say it.

The development of different types of narrator is characteristic of narrative trends and movements in the history of literature. Many times their choice reflects the cultural and / or philosophical tensions of the moment, or a form of reaction or innovation based on traditional storytellers.

It is there that contemporary literature has experimented with more complex, multiple and dynamic narrators, as is the case of the stream of consciousness (“Flow of consciousness”) associated with the work of the Irishman James Joyce (1882-1941).

Narrator types

Depending on its nature, it is possible to identify different types of storyteller. For this, the common thing is to differentiate them according to the grammatical person they use (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and, later, according to the type of relationship they have with respect to what is told.

Intradiegetic or first person narrator. Also known as internal narrator or protagonist, it is a narrator who is part of the story told, that is, he is at the same time narrator and character, in such a way that we see absolutely everything that happened through his eyes. Therefore, the first person narrator has an evident personality, memories and opinions about what is told, and his subjectivity can come into play through the language he uses or the way he chooses to tell what counts. This narrator can, in turn, be of three different types:

  • Main narrator. It is the one who plays at the same time the role of narrator, character and main protagonist of the story, that is, to whom most of the events of the plot happen. He is the narrator of diaries or autobiographies, for example.
  • Eyewitness narrator. In this case, the narrator is a secondary character in the plot, who simply serves as a witness to what happened to the protagonist, that is, he tells us how he found out about the things he tells. A typical example is the literary or journalistic chronicles, in which the narrator tells what happened to third parties from his point of view.

Self-diagnosis or second-person narrator. It is the least popular type of narrator, given its restricted use, since it turns the whole story into something that is said to the protagonist, through the use of the second person grammar (you, you, etc.). This type of narrator usually consists of an abstraction, or refers to herself as a character within the plot, as if we were listening to a conversation in which only one member always speaks.

Heterodiegetic or third person narrator. Also called external narrator, it is the most common of all, allowing a wide margin of proximity or distance from what is told, which happens to third parties. The narrator is always outside the story, that is, he does not take any action on it, but he can know more or less details of what happened. This type of narrator is classified in turn into:

  • Omniscient narrator. It is about a narrator who observes the events related from a superior, ubiquitous point of view, without limiting himself to any specific point of view. He is the narrator-god: he knows everything, he can refer to any current or past event, in short, he is totally free, but alien to the story. This narrator is typical in children’s stories.
  • Impersonal witness narrator. In this case, the narrator recounts what happened from the point of view of a witness, that is, of an entity that was present at the events, but has no participation in it. In other words, it is not about a character in the plot, but rather an abstraction that observes it, often anchored to a specific character (the protagonist). Its equivalent would be the look of the movie camera.
  • Informant narrator. A fragmentary, dispersed narrator, whose voice comes from press clippings, newspaper fragments or some type of document from which the story is recomposed.

Another category that escapes this classification is that of reliable storyteller (when we can trust your voice to know the story) or suspicious narrator (When your voice is unreliable, for personal or other reasons, to tell the story accurately).

Examples of narrator

Here are some examples of each narrator, taken from literary works:

  • Main narrator. Taken from “The Beginner”, story by Charles Bukowski:

“I told him where we would meet next and got in one of the two-dollar winner queues. All the lines were very long. I had the feeling that people did not want to gamble. They seemed inert. I picked up my ticket just as the announcer was saying, “They’re at the door!”

I found Madge. It was a mile race and we were at the finish line.

“I chose Green Fang,” I told him. “

  • First person witness narrator, taken from the story “The Adventure of a Case of Identity” by Arthur Conan Doyle:

“” My dear companion, “said Sherlock Holmes, as he and I sat on either side of the fireplace, in their rooms on Baker Street,” life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive certain things that are true common places of existence ”.

  • Second person narrator, taken from the novel Aura from Carlos Fuentes:

“You will be surprised to imagine that someone lives on Donceles street. You have always believed that nobody lives in the old city center. You walk slowly, trying to distinguish the number 815 in this conglomeration of old colonial palaces converted into repair shops, watch shops, shoe stores and fresh water outlets. The nomenclatures have been revised, superimposed, confused ”.

  • Omniscient narrator, taken from the story “Three versions of Judas” by Jorge Luis Borges:

“In vain did the Stockholm and Lund bookstores propose that revelation. The disbelievers considered her, a priori, an insipid and laborious theological game; theologians despised it. Runeberg sensed in this ecumenical indifference an almost miraculous confirmation. God commanded that indifference; God did not want his terrible secret to spread on earth. Runeberg understood that the time had not arrived ”.

  • Impersonal witness narrator, taken from the story “The trace of your blood in the snow” by Gabriel García Márquez:

“At dusk, when they reached the border, Nena Daconte realized that the finger with the wedding ring was still bleeding. The civil guard with a raw wool blanket over his patent leather hat examined the passports by the light of a carbide flashlight, trying very hard not to be knocked over by the pressure of the wind blowing from the Pyrenees. Although they were two diplomatic passports in order, the guard raised the flashlight to check that the portraits resembled faces. “

  • Informant narrator, taken from the novel Holds Pereira from Antonio Tabucchi:

“Pereira maintains that he met him one summer day. A magnificent summer day, sunny and airy, and Lisbon was sparkling. It seems that Pereira was in the newsroom, not knowing what to do, the director was on vacation, he was in the trouble of organizing the cultural page, because Lisbon already had a cultural page, and they had entrusted it to him ” .