4.3. Author and narrator 



A narrative is often defined, as we have done here, as "the semiotic representation of a series of events."  But there is another more restricted definition which is equally common: according to Bal, "a narrative text is a text in which an agent tells a story"  (Narratology  119).  Semiotic representation through signs is always the work of an agent, and the narrator is, in this sense, the agent who enunciates the narrative text.  The   narrative text, then, is a linguistic enunciation like many others.  We will draw a basic opposition between the subjects of the enunciation, the characters in the text, and the subject of the enunciating, the instance whose words represent those characters and the rest of the textual universe. 


            We could at this point draw on a linguistic analogy to introduce an important analytical concept, narrative person.  According to Jakobson, the verbal category of person characterizes the protagonists of the enunciation (spoken about) with reference to the protagonists of enunciating (the addresser and the addressee).[1]  A first person form, such as "I," means that the addresser, the main protagonist of the activity of enunciating, is positing himself as the subject of both enunciating and enunciation.  A second person form, "you,"  equally locates the person spoken about with respect to the speaking situation: if "I" does the speaking, "you" is present in some way or other.  On the other hand, "he" or "she" are characterized by their absence from the speech situation, if still by reference to it.  This verbal category translates easily into narratology, according to the structuralist principle that narrative is an expanded verb or sentence.  Just as we have first, second and third person pronouns, we have works of literature in the first and in the third person, and even in the second (many love songs, and even narratives like La modification).   


            So far we might have characterised the enunciative structure of narrative.  But here we are dealing with literary narrative,  and this adds some further complications.  Literature is a linguistic game, a peculiar mode of enunciating.   The difference between the subject of the enunciating and the subject of the enunciation, the difference between the speaker and the person spoken about, is not as clear-cut here as it is elsewhere.  Who does the enunciating in literary narrative?  Sometimes we shall find that it is a character, as in Great Expectations,  and sometimes we seem to hear the voice of the author himself, as in El Quijote  or Fielding's novels.  There is a clear difference in principle between the subject of the enunciating and the subject of enunciation, since all novels have authors and all have characters.  But we shall often need to posit an intermediary figure, the narrator, who shares some characteristics of both author and character.  The narrator is a bridge between the enunciation and the enunciating, and one of the tasks of literary analysis is to determine the extent to which each of these poles is the more relevant in his composition.  The narrator will be defined as the enunciator of a narrative text which nevertheless does not account for the full complexity of the literary work. 


            The basic problem of this complexity begins to appear at a linguistic, non-literary level, in the phenomenon of quoted speech.  Plato was the first to analyze the fact that the "I" of a narrative text need not refer to the author.  He separates "simple" narrative from "imitative" narrative.  In imitative narrative, the speaker "speaks through somebody else's mouth" and "tries to conform as far as possible to the language of the person in whose name he speaks."[2]  Drama uses imitative narration, dithyrambs use simple narration, and epic poetry uses both: its mode is, therefore, mixed.  This is the first critical passage devoted both to the issue of narrative persona and to the question of direct and indirect style, and we must recognize that the problems have some structural as well as historical relation. 


            Plato did not appreciate imitative narration, since imitations may degrade the speaker if the imitated object is unworthy.  But Aristotle will use opposite criteria.  If Plato criticized Homer because of his extensive use of direct speech, Aristotle praises him for the same reason.  According to him, "the poet should speak as little as possible in his own person, for it is not this that makes him an imitator"  (Poetics  63, XXIV.7).  This idea that the narrator should efface himself, to let the action unfold dramatically before the audience, to let the characters expand freely with a minimum of narratorial control, returns again with the development of the realist novel: we find different versions of this creed in Spielhagen, in Henry James, in Joyce.


            However, we can hardly say that Aristotle has a definite concept of a narrator as an entity different in any way from the poet.  In the case of fiction, the difference is obviously easier to establish in the case of first-person narratives.  Thus, Wordsworth speaks of the "dramatic parts" of his poems, "those parts when the poet speaks through the mouth of his characters."[3]  These parts must preserve a strict decorum  (a decorum of psychological realism, of course--after all, it is a Romantic who speaks).  An excessive linguistic elaboration would go against verisimilitude, and is to be reserved in any case for the voice of the poet.  Wordsworth wants his lyrical ballads written in the language of men, and that is why he uses narrators so often.  But still his narrators are introduced by the voice of the poet.  A more advanced concept of a narrator is introduced by Spielhagen, who differentiates in this respect first and third person novels:

In the language of art, we call a novel in which the hero appears as the narrator of his fate a first person novel, in opposition to other novels, where the hero is a third person and we are told of his adventures by the writer.[4] 

We see that the aim here is to tell apart those fictions which are told by a fictional character from those in which an authorial voice is in charge.  The difference established here, then, is not so much one of author versus narrator as (once again) one of author versus character.  There is a "narrator" only when a fictional character tells the story. 


            Tomashevski further develops the notion of "narrator": in his view, there is a narrator different from the author in those novels which are written in imitation of an oral narrative (skaz), where a specific fictional character tells a story with a language that characterizes him as a specific individual in his own right, not a neutral, self-effacing and transparent medium, or "abstract narrative" (Teoría   253-4).


            We have to wait until the New Critics and other immanent students of literature to find the opposition author / narrator extended to the point of being applied to all kinds of novels, in first or third person, with a neutral or an obstrusive speaker.  The New Critics consider the literary text as a self-sufficient object, which in order to be understood does not require a knowledge of the author's context or ideas (other than the one provided by the language of the text).  Therefore there will be no more talk of authors: instead we find only the implied image of the author provided by the text.  This is no longer a flesh-and-blood person properly speaking, but a textual construct, which is called by the critics in a number of ways: dramatic speaker, lyrical subject (in the case of poetry), implied author, author, narrator.  Terminology, once again, is confusing, and we should look into a critic's assumptions in this respect, not merely into his set of favourite terms.  A typical pronouncement is given by Wolfgang Kayser: "the narrator is not the author . . . ; the narrator is a fictional being the author has turned into."[5]  And for Genette, in a narrative of fiction

the role of narrator is itself fictive, even if assumed directly by the author. . . .  The narrator of Père Goriot  'is' not Balzac, even if here and there he expresses Balzac's opinions, for this author-narrator is someone who 'knows' the Vauquer boardinghouse, its landlady and its lodgers, whereas all Balzac himself does is imagine them; and in this sense, of course, the narrating situation of a fictional account is never  reduced to its situation of writing. (Narrative Discourse  213). 

So, for modern criticism, the very act of writing literature carries along with it a fictionalization of the speaker.  The real self of the author becomes to some extent irrelevant, and we understand the work in terms of his "official" self in the institution of literature, the image of the author which emanates from his works. 


            However, this fact does not rule out the simple phenomenon of narration through the mouth of a fictional character.  The real author is not the implied author, all right, but this does not always mean that the implied author is always in charge of producing the narrative text, of being the immediate subject of enunciating.  Therefore we have three candidate figures to fill in this subject position: the author, the implied autor, and the narrator.  They are perhaps first identified by Barthes, when he argues that in literature "he who speaks  (in the narrative) is not he who writes  (in life) and he who writes  is not he who is." [6]  Booth had already observed that "'Narrator' is usually taken to mean the 'I' of a work, but the 'I' is seldom if ever identical with the implied image of the artist"[7]--which in turn is seldom if ever identical with the artist. 


            We can study narrators in many possible ways.  Since narrators are, in part, characters, we can study their personality in the way we would study the personality of any other character.  Greimas and Courtés provide a systematic framework for the study of the competence of any discursive subject.[8]  We can study the different modalities that bear upon the textual subject and constitute him as such.  This analysis can be applied to characters and narrators alike, although the results will obviously vary because of their different positions in the textual structure.   


MODALITIES   :   Virtualising      Actualising      Performative


Exotatic :                     MUST        CAN                    DO



Endotaxic :                  WANT                   KNOW               BE



            But we shall postpone this study until we introduce a further level of analysis, the narrative as literary work, in which a new textual subject, the implied author, is introduced.  As we shall see, it is helpful to characterize the narrator and the implied autor differentially, with respect to each other's stance and competence.  We see that Genette does not introduce this kind of considerations just as he does not introduce the concept of the implied author--a choice of limits which is legitimate for a particular essay, but too restrictive for narrative theory as a whole.








[1]          Roman Jakobson, "Les embrayeurs, les catégories verbales et le verbe russe" 183.

[2]          Plato, República   101, III. 

[3]          William Wordsworth, Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads  439. 

[4]          Friedrich Spielhagen, Beiträge zur Theorie und Technik des Romans  131.  Translation mine. 

[5]          Wolfgang Kayser, "Qui raconte le roman?" 72.

[6]          Roland Barthes, "Introduction à l'analyse structurale des récits" 26.

[7]          Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction  73. 

[8]          A. J. Greimas and J. Courtés, Sémiotique  124.