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9.3 Narrative inconsistencies and contrasting perspectives

4 min readjanuary 28, 2023

ChristineLing

ChristineLing


AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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Introduction

Welcome to our last study guide for Unit 9! We’ll be sure to end it with a bang, looking at how narrators themselves can change over the course of a text, what impact narrative inconsistencies have on reader interpretation, and the role of multiple/contrasting perspectives.
Let’s begin!

Narrator Changes & Inconsistencies

We’ve gone over the influence of the narrator/speaker’s perspective in past study guides. Now, let’s look at what happens when the narrator changes.
As a refresher: A narrator or speaker in a text refers to the voice that is telling the story or presenting the information. This voice can be the author, a character, or an omniscient observer. 
The narrator or speaker can change as the story progresses as a result of actions and interactions that take place within the story.
For example, in a first-person narrative, the narrator may be a character in the story. As the story progresses, the narrator’s interactions with other characters may change their perspective, influencing the way they tell the story.
In a third-person narrative, the narrator may be an omniscient observer, but their perspective can still change as the story progresses. For example, they may zoom in on a specific character's thoughts and feelings, or shift between multiple characters' perspectives.
Additionally, a text may have multiple narrators, which can change over the course of the story, adding complexity and depth to the narrative. The shifts from narrator to narrator can be used as a literary device to create suspense, foreshadowing or other effects.

Effect of Narrative Inconsistencies

Intentional narrative inconsistencies in a text can have a variety of effects on the reader. Some of these include:
  • Creating tension and uncertainty: Inconsistencies in a text can create a sense of confusion and uncertainty for the reader, which can be used to build tension and suspense.
  • Adding depth to the story: Inconsistencies can also be used to add depth and complexity to a story by introducing multiple perspectives, or by showing different versions of events.
  • Creating a sense of realism: Inconsistencies in a text can also create a sense of realism by mimicking the way that people perceive and remember events in real life.
  • Enhancing the theme: Inconsistencies in a text can also be used to enhance the themes of the story by showing the different ways in which people can perceive and interpret events.
  • Reflecting the narrator's bias: Intentional narrative inconsistencies can also reflect the narrator's bias, emotions and subjectivity; showing how their perspective might affect the way they tell the story.
  • Creating a sense of empathy: As the narrator develops, the reader may also develop a sense of empathy with them, which can affect the way they interpret the events and the characters in the story.

Multiple/Contrasting Perspectives

A single text can contain various, and even conflicting, perspectives. This technique is often used by authors to add complexity and depth to their stories by presenting different characters' viewpoints or by using different narrators. For example, a novel could have multiple narrators telling the story from their own perspectives, or it could have one narrator who shifts between different characters' perspectives. Additionally, some works of literature use the technique of multiple perspectives to explore themes of subjectivity and point of view, or to challenge the reader's understanding of the events or characters in the story. 

Examples

Here are a few examples of well-known books that use multiple perspectives:
  • "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald: The story is told primarily from the perspective of the narrator, Nick Carraway. Carraway is a first-person narrator and a character in the story. Throughout the novel, the reader is given insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the various characters through Nick's perspective. Occasionally, the author uses other characters' perspectives to reveal certain parts of the story, such as Gatsby's thoughts and feelings, or other characters' thoughts or feelings on Gatsby.
  • "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien: This collection of short stories is told from the perspectives of various soldiers during the Vietnam War.
  • "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen: the story is told through using third-person omniscient narrator. The narrator speaks from multiple perspectives, mainly Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist and Mr. Darcy, the antagonist.

Effect of Multiple Perspectives

Using multiple perspectives in a work can have a significant impact on the reader's interpretation of the story. Some of the effects are similar to the effects of narrative inconsistencies. They include:
  • Adding complexity and depth to the story by providing different viewpoints and insights into the characters and events.
  • Challenging the reader's understanding of the story by presenting multiple versions of the same event or character, forcing the reader to question their own perceptions and biases.
  • Creating empathy for the characters by allowing the reader to understand their thoughts and feelings, which can make the characters more relatable and human.
  • Creating a sense of subjectivity and relativism, by showing that the truth is not absolute, but rather depends on the perspective of the observer.
  • Creating a sense of mystery and uncertainty, by giving the reader only partial information and leaving them to piece together the story and make their own interpretations.
Overall, the use of multiple perspectives in a work can make the story more engaging and thought-provoking, as it encourages the reader to actively consider and question their own understanding of the story and its characters.

Conclusion

In this study guide, we looked at how narrators can change over the course of a text, what impact narrative inconsistencies have on reader interpretation, and the role of multiple/contrasting perspectives. Narrator changes can be used to create tension and suspense, add depth, and reflect the narrator's bias and subjectivity. Multiple perspectives can challenge the reader's understanding, create empathy for the characters, and create a sense of relatability and mystery.
That’s all I have for you for AP Lit! This concludes our journey through the AP Lit CED.
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🌱Unit 1 – Intro to Short Fiction
Unit 2 – Intro to Poetry
🎭Unit 3 – Intro to Longer Fiction & Drama
⚔️Unit 4 – Character, Conflict, & Storytelling in Short Fiction
🌈Unit 5 – Structure & Figurative Language in Poetry
🛠️Unit 6 – Literary Techniques in Longer Works
🏛️Unit 7 – Societal & Historical Context in Short Fiction
🤾🏾‍♀️Unit 8 – Advanced Techniques in Poetry
🚣🏾Unit 9 – Nuanced Analysis in Longer Works

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