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Point of View: The Woman Warrior and Author Perspective

Authors are confronted with many different choices during the course of writing. Which characters to write, of course, is the question that tends to dominate most often. Writers have other choices, though, including choices about plot that must be decided before the book can take the appropriate form. On top of those things, authors have to decide how they are going to approach the actual writing of the book. They have to decide principally the point of view that they are going to use in telling their story. The author is going to try to identify with the reader as much as possible, and the point of view that the author uses can be as important as many of the other elements of the story. Point of view, it seems, can become a character all its own in some cases.

For fiction writers, there is a choice. One can write in first person, being himself the narrator of the work. One can write from a detached third person view, allowing the narrator to tell the overall story of the work from afar without being involved in the story. In Technique in Fiction, the authors describe one of the chief limitations of going with a narrator who himself is a part of the story. Because the narrator is a part of the story, he has some limitations that are different from the author. The author of any given work has all knowledge of the various characters. Not only does he know what they are doing at any given time, but he also knows what they are thinking. He has a keen understanding of their motives which can allow him to have a powerful understanding of their ultimate actions as they go through the course of a given event. The narrator, on the other hand, is left to guess what they might be thinking or why they might be acting. He has his own ideas, of course, and those ideas can communicate something important about the author’s own ideas, but they are limited in scope when compared to just writing from the perspective of a pure author. Of the narrator, the authors write, “He can guess shrewdly what is going on in the minds of the principal actors, but he cannot enter into those minds”. Still, authors make the decision to accept these limitations, mostly because having a narrator who is a part of the story is a better way to tell a story. Rather than telling the reader something about the characters, like a descriptive author’s point of view might, the author is able to show the reader something about the characters or the action. This is highly preferable as a matter of speaking, and it something that benefits characters significantly.

In her book, The Woman Warrior, Kingston made her own choice on point of view. This is not a work of fiction, of course, but rather, it is an autobiographical work. This means that necessarily, the author is writing from her own point of view. She is, in some ways, like the present narrator that an author might use to narrate a work of fiction. She can have her own perspective on characters like her mother, and she can have a keen understanding of her own issues. She can approach the action from her own place, giving the reader a look into her own mind in order to let that reader understand the action from one specific corner of the book. She cannot, however, speak to the absolute motivations of all of the characters. Kingston does not necessarily see this as a limitation of the work, though. Rather, she sees it as a way to add mystery and intrigue to the work in a very interesting manner. It adds spice to the story, letting the reader learn some things and guess other things about the various characters in play.

One of the unique things about the point of view that the author chose is that it allows the author the unique position of being able to speak from the inside of the story to the reader directly, as the reader rests on the outside of the story. The autobiographical style allows her to step out of the story in the way an actor in a play might have an aside to the audience. It is important for this type of work, especially given that the author is trying, in some respects, to be academic with this work. One such example of this comes when the author writes, “Be careful what you say. It comes true. It comes true. I had to leave home in order to see the world logically, logic the new way of seeing. I learned to think that mysteries are for explanation. I enjoy the simplicity. Concrete pours out of my mouth to cover the forests with freeways and sidewalks. Give me plastics, periodical tables, TV dinners with vegetables no more complex than peas mixed with diced carrots. Shine floodlights into dark corners: no ghosts” .

Ultimately, the author chose to approach her story from a first person point of view, with her own character serving as a part of the story and as a narrator. This allows the author to dance in and out of the action, addressing bigger points with the audience on demand. It works well for this style of work, which deviates from fiction in critical ways.