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Second Person Narration

1. What is it?

Second person narration is the use of ‘you’ in writing or storytelling.

2. Why use it?

Turn the reader into a character within the story.Illustrate that the writer understands how the reader feels, and therefore creates emotional attachment in the reader.
 Persuade readers that they want something within marketing.Experimental style, as very rarely used by writers

3. Examples

Everyone is looking elegant, and she stares at you across the room. You try to read her mind. Is she saying she wants to leave? You decide it is better to be safe than sorry.
“I’m sorry gentlemen, I’ve got to get some papers ready for the Cairo call tomorrow.”
They make some half-hearted utterances to persuade you to stay, but those are never going to stop you. These people are not your friends, and this life of pomp and cocktails is not real. You grew up with cheeseburgers and too many fries, and that is why the girl in the white dress is more important. She understands that you have no class, no style, and no airs. She knows you at home, at your worst – and there, not here, is where malleable lives are forged into love.


It is a rainy day in early March, and you wake up to the cold expectations of work. There are still three days until the weekend, and as you drink your coffee you gaze ahead, staring at the clock. Ten minutes until you have to leave the house. There must be a better way to live than this.
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4. Literary Examples

The Night
by Ray Bradbury

Know Your Book

Title: The Night
Author: Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)
Published: 1946
Language: English
Genre: Fiction; short story
Plot: Your mother is worried about how late your brother is getting home, so you both go to find him. As the two of you walk into the night, towards the ravine where you think your brother is, you notice a slight worry in her demeanour. This worry elicits a memory of your sister’s death.
Setting: A small town
Characters: You; your mother; your brother

Excerpt from Chapter 20:

Off somewhere, a car goes by, flashing its lights in the distance. There is such a complete lack of life, light and activity. Here and there, back off from where you are walking towards the ravine you see faint squares of light where people are still up. But most of the houses, darkened, are sleeping already, and there are a few lightless places where the occupants of a dwelling sit talking low dark talk on their front porches. You hear a porch swing squeaking as you walk near.
‘I wish your father was home,’ says Mother. Her large hand tightens around your small one. ‘Just wait’ll I get that boy. I’ll spank him within an inch of his life.’
A razor strop hangs in the kitchen for this. You think of it, remember when Dad has doubled and flourished it with muscled control over your frantic limbs. You doubt Mother will carry out her promise.
Now you have walked another block and are standing by the holy black silhouette of the German Baptist Church at the Corner of Chapel Street and Glen Rock. In the back of the church a hundred yards away, the ravine begins. You can smell it. It  has a dark sewer, rotten foliage, thick green odour. It is a wide ravine that cuts and twists across the town, a jungle by day, a place to let alone at night, Mother has often declared.
You should feel encouraged by the nearness of the German Baptist Church, but you are not — because the building is not illumined, is cold and useless as a pile of ruins on the ravine edge.
You are only eight years old, you know little of death, fear, or dread. Death is the waxen effigy in the coffin when you were six and Grandfather passed away — looking like a great fallen vulture in his casket, silent, withdrawn, no more to tell you how to be a good boy, no more to comment succinctly on politics. Death is your little sister one morning when you awaken at the age of seven, look into her crib and see her staring up at you with a blind blue, fixed and frozen stare until the men came with a small wicker basket to take her away. Death is when you stand by her high-chair four weeks later and suddenly realize she’ll never be in it again, laughing and crying and making you jealous of her because she was born. That is death.

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. What is the narrator (‘you’) doing in this passage?
2. The deaths of which two people are noted?
3. Which of the narrator’s family members does he appear to be most afraid of? 
Identifying Techniques

4. Quickly scan the passage and circle the cases in which the writer uses a pronoun indicating second person narration.
5. Although the author writes in the second person, the passage cannot realistically describe the reader’s life. What connection with the reader is the writer trying to make instead?
6. The pronoun ‘I’ is used in the passage, but the narration is second person. How do you know that the use of ‘I’ does not affect or change the narration voice? 
Text Analysis

7. Underline the sentence that highlights the contrast between how the church location is seen during daylight, and how it is now (nighttime).
8. Which sentence most directly states the emotions that the passage as a whole discusses?
9. Although the narrator is alive, the writer uses several images and adjectives that allude to death (discussed in the last paragraph) in the first four paragraphs. What are they?
10. In which paragraph does the narrator feel a sense of hope? How is that hope reduced?
11. In the final paragraph, the writer discusses the narrator’s relationship with the two dead people. What are the differences between the narrator’s relationship with these people, and how he feels about their deaths?  
Provoking Opinion

12. The writer connects certain ideas – such as loneliness and darkness – with death. Do you think this is effective? What adjectives, states and/or ideas would you link with death?
13. Raymond Bradbury is most famous for his science fiction writing. What traits or ideas in this passage do you think could also be used in science fiction?
14. The piece is melancholic in tone. What positive ideas about life could you take from the passage? Do you think the passage would be greatly affected if the writer had used first or third person narration? Would it have changed the way you viewed it?

If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler
by Italo Calvino

Know Your Book

Title: Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore (trans: If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler)
Author: Italo Calvino (1923-1985)
Published: 1979
Language: Italian
Genre: Fiction; postmodernist
Plot: Each chapter has two parts: a section in which ‘you’ prepare to read a book; then a segment from a new book. The ‘you’ story progresses into an adventure with a woman called Ludmilla in which you try to find the rest of the book. The new book segments, meanwhile, introduce genres that complement the ‘you’ story while telling of a conspiracy within the publishing world.
Setting: Cimmeria
Characters: You (reader); Ludmilla

Excerpt from Chapter 1 (translated from Italian):

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice–they won’t hear you otherwise–“I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell; “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.
Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, curled up, or lying flat. Flat on your back, on your side, on your stomach. In an easy chair, on the sofa, in the rocker, the deck chair, on the hassock. In the hammock, if you have a hammock. On top of your bed, of course, or in the bed. You can even stand on your hands, head down, in the yoga position. With the book upside down, naturally.
Of course, the ideal position for reading is something you can never find. In the old days they used to read standing up, at a lectern. People were accustomed to standing on their feet, without moving. They rested like that when they were tired of horseback riding. Nobody ever thought of reading on horseback; and yet now, the idea of sitting in the saddle, the book propped against the horse’s mane, or maybe tied to the horse’s ear with a special harness, seems attractive to you. With your feet in the stirrups, you should feel quite comfortable for reading; having your feet up is the first condition for enjoying a read.
Well, what are you waiting for? Stretch your legs, go ahead and put your feet on a cushion, or two cushions, on the arms of the sofa, on the wings of the chair, on the coffee table, on the desk, on the piano, on the globe. Take your shoes off first. If you want to, put your feet up; if not, put them back. Now don’t stand there with your shoes in one hand and the book in the other.
Adjust the light so you won’t strain your eyes. Do it now, because once you’re absorbed in reading there will be no budging you. Make sure the page isn’t in shadow, a clotting of black letters on a gray background, uniform as a pack of mice; but be careful that the light cast on it isn’t too strong, doesn’t glare on the cruel white of the paper gnawing at the shadows of the letters as in a southern noonday. Try to foresee now everything that might make you interrupt your reading. Cigarettes within reach, if you smoke, and the ashtray. Do you have to pee? All right, you know best.

1. The ‘you’ in the passage refers to

a) the author
b) the reader
c) the narrator
d) the public
e) the story

Answer
b
2. The passage makes use of

a) the author’s personal experience
b) geographic-specific details
c) self-reference
d) quoted text
e) universal truths

Answer
c
3. The passage primarily concerns

a) the history of literature
b) the nature of reading
c) the frivolity of art
d) the contrast between writer and reader
e) the similarities between fact and fiction

Answer
b
4. The style of If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler could be described as

a) gothic
b) religious
c) fantasy
d) postmodernist
e) poetic

Answer
d
5. Both Ray Bradbury’s The Night and Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler use second
person narration in order to:


a) link to the reader’s own life experience
b) display the difficulty of writing
c) create comedy
d) show the author’s background
e) give an authentic tone to the action

Answer
a

Tasks

Task 1: Write a paragraph, either for storytelling or marketing purposes, in which the second person narrative voice is used to create an emotional effect on the reader.
Task 2: Create a scene that involves more than one character but in which the action is described in second person narration.

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