Point of View in Edith Wharton's "Souls Belated".

Essay by frolicnakedUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, September 2005

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Point of view always influences the way readers perceive events. In literature, the point of view the author chooses not only affects the way readers perceive and interpret events, but it also determines, to some extent, what the readers can actually see. That is, point of view guides the way readers interpret events and draw conclusions by limiting or illuminating the amount and nature of the information from which conclusions can be drawn. In "Souls Belated," Edith Wharton uses point of view to illuminate the thoughts of each character individually, while concealing the thoughts of the other, and eventually to highlight the vastly different mindsets of both characters involved.

Wharton first does this by revealing Lydia's thoughts to the readers while hiding Gannett's. At the exposition, the story is told in third person, from Lydia's point of view. This technique allows readers to see directly into Lydia's mind.

To know what Gannet is thinking, however, they must accept Lydia's version of his thoughts: "He was thinking of it now, just as she was; they had been thinking about it in unison ever since they had entered the train" (673). Since readers have no direct insight into Gannett's brain, they have no way to know what he is really thinking, but neither do they have, as yet, any substantial reason to doubt Lydia's interpretation of events.

The third-person-limited point of view is particularly effective because it allows readers to view Lydia's thoughts, opinions, and interpretations as facts. If Wharton had chosen to tell the story in first person, from Lydia's point of view, the narrative would be clearly subjective. Readers would be aware of the limitations of a first person narrator. Consequently, they would have plenty of incentive to question the accuracy of Lydia's perception. On the...