The First Person Plural Point-of-View -- Jay Sennett

In an effort to further study point-of-view in the English language, I will read books with the first-person plural point-of-view.

We the narrator is an unusual choice.  It neither allows for a believably reflective stream of consciousness nor a believably true omniscience.

In the balance it does offers a reader the opportunity to understand the collective human experience of us versus them.

I recently completed Joan Chase’s “During the Reign of the Queen of Persia”.

The author sets the story at a time in American life when women really had very little authority in the family structure. Women navigated power in circumspect and backhanded ways. Men dominated the family with violence and control.

Against this backdrop, Chase describes the relationships between a woman (The Queen of Persia), her five daughters and four granddaughters.

The four granddaughters narrate the novel.

Observing Aunt Grace, her sisters (the narrators’ aunts) and the various men in their lives, and Grace's mother and father (their grandparents) as Grace dies from cancer, the four daughters come to understand themselves as a single entity.

“We held her (Aunt Grace) in great awe. And it was as though her presence and our devotion to her had united us at last in a perfect oneness, we four girls thinking, feeling and moving in the dimension that felt like the exact representation of a greater mind.” (Chase, 152)

Chase accomplishes something rather unique in the English language.

Using we the narrator she constructs a collective experience, both for her characters and for us as the reader.

It was the four girls against the world. The four of them function as a single unit. Chase does described them in detail, particularly the oldest of the four girls; but really they form a defensive circle, a perimeter against the chaos, the anger and the dying they feel and see occurring within their family.

The world Chase describes thrives on secrets, misdirection, and a kind of sad loneliness that I think many families experienced when women were really unable to express themselves fully. Chase also reflects how men suffered in this dynamic as well.

Reading the book reminded me of how my brother and I banded together as children. Our parents were rather self-involved, which left the two of us to do what we did while they did what they did.

We constructed and narrated our collective experience. We lived through certain events as a single mind, truly.

“Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka also explores a single group experience using the first-person plural. Otsuka, unlike Chase, uses we across a greater span of time, places and individuals. Consequently we get greater sense of the collective experience of picture brides and Japanese women moving to America in the early part of the 20th century.

With Otsuka we understand the experiences of Japanese women coming to America while with Chase we observe the workings of a particular family.

The first-person plural point-of-view provides a tool to describe particular human experiences. I think about the rallies  I've attended--the events larger than myself--parties, birthdays, funerals, when I seemed to act as a larger single unit, rather than as an individual.

Whether I will use the first-person plural point-of-view in a novel I can't say.

I can say reading authors who have used this point-of-view has enriched not only my understanding of human experiences but also expanded my understanding of the possibilities of the English language.


Rosalie Warren said…
What an interesting post, Jay. I have never considered second person plural as a possible viewpoint, but will do so now, and will look out the books you mention. Thanks!

Griselda Heppel said…
Agree but am somewhat confused. Isn't 'We' the First Person Plural? From Second Person Plural I assumed you meant 'You' is the narrative voice, which would be challenging but people do manage it. So: 'You know how it feels to be ignored, you and all your sisters, because you come from the other end of town, but you go to the party anyway' type of thing.
Jay Sennett said…
Haha on me!

Thank you, Griselda.

You are correct. We is first-person plural. All my school grammar disappeared for this article, apparently.

And Roslie, the books I mentioned are truly lovely.

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