Point-of-view sets the tone

SPM English -- LESSON 5 (Literature) with AUDREY LIM


LET’S go back to our discussion of the short texts. Have you been actively thinking about your literature texts and writing out your answers to the assignments?  

You might think the answer is in your head, but you still need to verbalise your thoughts and organise your material on paper, so do get used to writing concise and relevant answers within the limited time given. Don’t just passively wait for my answers, okay? 

Now, refer to the quick questions on exposition I set in Lesson 3: 

How effective an exposition are the opening paragraphs of a) The Necklace, and b) The Drover’s Wife 

Your answer should have included a discussion of the language used: 

a) The opening paragraphs of de Maupassant’s story make an effective exposition, as we immediately know what Matilde is like. She is pretty and charming but the compilation of negative words and phrases (“no dowry, no expectations, no way”; “unhappy”; “suffered ceaselessly”) underlines her discontent, especially when juxtaposed with the fact that she feels “herself born to enjoy all delicacies and all luxuries”. 

She dreams of being in grand places and owning expensive things, and is unaware of the wealth she has in having her health, her good looks and a loving husband. 

b) The opening paragraphs of Lawson’s story form an effective exposition because Lawson sets the scene quickly and economically. After describing the simple house that is the home of the drover and his family, we are told that outside there is “bush all around.” The sparse prose of the second paragraph (shown in the lack of full sentences) emphasises the barrenness of the landscape. 

The subsequent paragraphs reveal to us that the drover is away and that his wife is left alone with four young children. Will there be danger in such an isolated place without a male protector? Almost immediately “the plot thickens” as danger is imminent when one of the children yells that there is a snake. The use of the short conversation exchanges between mother and son punctuated by exclamation marks quickens the action and highlights the potential danger faced by the drover’s family. 

Think about it: Is the opening chapter of your chosen novel effective in terms of setting, characterisation and plot? Why? 

Apart from the plot structure of any narrative, we need to consider from whose viewpoint a narrative is told. For example, the motorist who hits a car will give a police officer an account of the accident, which is considerably different from the one given by the driver of the hit car. Similarly, whoever is telling the tale in a narrative will give his/her own point of view. 

Point of view is a term describing the way in which the reader is presented with the story. The narrative could be told using: 

i) the authoritative omniscient approach, in which the author is the all-knowing god or creator who knows everything about his characters, and presents the narration through the eyes of different characters. Thus, we are privy to their thoughts and feelings, as well as their actions and words. 

ii) the first person approach, in which the narrator is the “I” who tells the story. Thus, the narrator can only tell us what he sees, does or knows. 

iii) the third person limited approach where the events of the narrative are presented through the eyes of one character, either major or minor. 

Think about it: What point of view is used by the novelist for your chosen novel? Why has he chosen the narrative approach that he has? Would the impact have been less if he had used another approach? (You might also consider the point of view each writer has adopted in his/her short story, and why.) 


By the way, some of these literary terms are not restricted to narratives or dramas, but “spill over” genres. For example, we can also talk about the setting of a poem, or discuss its point of view. Let me elaborate: 

Kipling’s poem If uses the first person point of view, and sets the scene as one in which he, a father, is giving advice to his son on how he can grow up to be a real man. The tone is didactic, i.e. it teaches a lesson, and is therefore serious in nature. 

Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, which also uses the “I” approach, sees the persona walking through some woods when he comes to a fork in the road. He ponders long and hard over which path to take, so the tone here is reflective or contemplative

However, the term “rhyme scheme” can only be used of poetry and verse. Both poems have a definite rhyme scheme: If observes a regular ab-ab-ab pattern while The Road Not Taken is more unusual in that the final words of his lines use the abaab pattern. 

This rhyme scheme befits the mood of each poem: One could venture to say that Kipling’s father-persona is self-assured and more convinced of his views about life (he needs to be if he wants to advise his son effectively!) whereas Frost’s poet-persona is hesitant and the unusual rhyme scheme underlines the unusual choice he has made in choosing the road not usually taken. 

Now, read the following extracts and answer these exam-style short response questions on these two poems: 


If (Rudyard Kipling) 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 

And lose, and start again at your beginnings 

And never breathe a word about your loss; 

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 

To serve your turn long after they are gone, 

And so hold on when there is nothing in you 

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!” 


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch, 

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 

If all men count with you, but none too much; 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute 

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run – 

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, 

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son! 


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,  

And sorry I could not travel both  

And be one traveller, long I stood  

And looked down one as far as I could  

To where it bent in the undergrowth;  


Then took the other, as just as fair,  

And having perhaps the better claim,  

Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 

Though as for that the passing there  

Had worn them really about the same, 


And both that morning equally lay  

In leaves no step had trodden black.  

Oh, I kept the first for another day!  

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,  

I doubted if I should ever come back.  


I shall be telling this with a sigh  

Somewhere ages and ages hence:  

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – 

I took the one less travelled by,  

And that has made all the difference.  

a) What two qualities are suggested in the first stanza of this extract? 

b) Paraphrase the first four lines of the second stanza here.  


The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost) 

a) What is the message of this poem? 

b) What does the poet mean by saying he will be “telling this with a sigh”? Why do you think he would have this feeling? 


Before I end today’s lesson, let me set you the next assignment on the novel: Choose any character from your chosen novel. Based on your reading of the text, show how this character changes or develops as the story progresses. Your answer should include reasons why the character changes. 

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