English Seminar for Lecture 3: Narration and Point of View

Narration and Point of View: group questions and discussions

In this week’s lecture, we looked at extracts from Yan Geiling’s novel Flowers of War, Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, and Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout.

In preparation for today’s class, you should also have read chapter two of the Norton Introduction to Literature, including one of the three short stories; either Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”, Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, or Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl”.

Let’s build on what we’ve learned about narration and point of view. We can start with first person narration, using the example of the extract from Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout. Please complete the following comprehension exercise. Work in pairs and discuss your answers together (one of you can record your answers on your notepaper)

Comprehension quiz:Narrative and point of view in The Sellout

a. What kind of narration is used in The Sellout?

b. What kind of style does the narration employ?

c. How would you describe the novel’s point of view?

d. What can weÂsay about the narrator’s reliability?

e. What else might we want to know to fully appreciate the narration and point of view?

OK, now let’s discuss the questions together (ten-fifteen minutes).

Now let’s work on answering the questions below (for the next 10-15 mins), considering each of the other authors’ works in turn (Yan, McInerney, Allen Poe, Hemingway, Kincaid. Please use the Q&A form (on your tablets) to record your own answers. You don’t need to give answers for the two Norton anthology short stories you did not select as your reading chapter.

Q&A: narration and point of view

1. Does the narrator speak in the first, second, or third person?

2. Is the story narrated in the past or present tense? Does the verb tense affect your reading of it in any way?

3. Does the narrator use a distinctive vocabulary and style, or is the language more standard and neutral?

4. Is the narrator identified as a character, and if so how much does he or she participated in the action?

5. Does the narrator ever seem to speak to the reader directly (addressing, or explicitly state opinions or values)?

6. Do you know what every character is thinking, or only some characters, or none? Does the narrative voice or focus shifts during the story or remain consistent?

7. Do the narrator, the characters and the reader all perceive matters in the same way, or are there differences in levels of understanding?

OK, once you’ve written your answers, let’s discuss the questions together (10-15 minutes).

Now let’s have a look at the results of last week’s class survey. In the lecture last week we discussed different kinds of fictional genre, and you completed a survey on the genres you enjoy, and the languages you like and would like to read or view in. Click here to view the class results.

The lectures and seminars will be informed by your interests, sometimes allowing you a choice of genre examples to work with, where you will make use of your critical understanding of several key concepts of narration and point of view.

However, at times you will need to engage with some of the classic texts of English literature (or literature translated into English). This is the case with this week’s short writing assignment (given in the lecture), where you will work with one British or one American literary classic.

Finally, let’s discuss this week’s written Comprehension exercise (due next week).

Remember, for this written comprehension exercise, you should read one of the following extracts:

The assignment consists of two parts:

Part A) Can you give your chosen reading extract a close reading, identifying how the writing shifts between the perspective and values of the implied author and the narrator’s voice and focus? Write your ideas in the form of a bullet point list (at least 6 points), and then give it to your paired partner to read, while you read their bullet point list. Then you should each write your comments on each other’s close-readings.


Part B) Then see if you can provide a critical analysis that pays attention to the context. How might some knowledge of this historical period and the life of Charles Dickens potentially add to understanding this passage? Once again, write your ideas in the form of a bullet point list (at least 6 points), and then give it to your partner to read, while you read theirs. Again, you should each write your comments on each other’s critical-readings.

You should submit Part A And B together, using the online submission page. Make sure your partner’s comments are included (handwritten on the page or typed on a copy of your page).

You may find it helpful to listen to the audio file on the two novelists, the novels, and their historical contexts posted on the lecture page.

Do you have any questions about the assignment? Let’s discuss them now.

OK, that’s all for today’s seminar. Please come and see me during office hours (or ring/weixin/email) with any questions.

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