In his essay “Distance and Point-of-View,” Wayne Booth discusses the ways and means in which authors achieve an “inside view” through various choices in narration. Depending on the specific desired effects of a particular story, certain qualities of a narrator are chosen (Booth 91). This “inside view” into the story operates as a “portal” no matter what the distance, whether the narrator is first or third-person. A close look at “The Door: A Prologue of Sorts” by Robert Coover illustrates the relationship between the desired effect of the author for the story, how intended effect determines his choices to alter point-of-view throughout based on the story’s purpose, and that regardless of which “portal” he uses, a certain degree of omniscience is achieved in the layering of the narrative voice.

Coover begins in the third person from the point-of-view of Jack. From this vantage point, we gain insight into Jack’s position as he chops as the tree, his thoughts and emotions. “And so he was afraid. For her. For himself. Because he’d given her her view of the world, in fragments of course, not really thinking it all out, she listening, he telling, and because of her gaiety and his love, his cowardly lonely love, he’d left out the terror” (Coover 14). Through this portal, we see Jack deeply, as he sees himself. The moment Coover has chosen to present Jack isn’t inherently dramatic—he’s simply chopping wood—however, he uses the point-of-view to portray the character dramatically through this “inside view.” In addition to his psychological depth, revealing the back story of the nature of his relationship with the daughter, we also get a glimpse of how Jack sees the world he inhabits, and another tension is set up between the character and setting through this point-of-view. “But, no, he thought, remembering the world’s dead and all their forgotten itches, you can’t get out of it that easy, old buddy, only kings could sleep and rise again, and all the kings were gone” (15).

However, less obvious is the level in which Jack’s point-of-view works below the surface of the story itself. The dramatic ambiguity in this use of point-of-view operates on what Booth calls a “second sense” (104). Behind Jack’s third person account of the story unfolding, his actions and speech, is the mental record of the unfolding story. “He paused in his chopping. Yes, a knock, he’d heard it. Perhaps today then. Perhaps very soon. He leaned his axe against the felled tree, turned anxiously toward the cottage.” (Coover 15). Like Booth’s example of Stephen in Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” an omniscient narration in present behind this reporting, that of the “infallible author,” in the above two lines beginning with, “He paused…” and “He leaned…” The shorter lines between the more omniscient narration bring the “portal” much closer, into Jack’s personal thoughts: “Yes, a knock, he’d heard it. Perhaps today then. Perhaps very soon.” Booth alleges a certain degree of omniscience is always present no matter what overt choice of point-of-view has been made. In the “weaving” of narration, as shown in the lines above, the omniscience sometimes takes a step forward, other times a step back, to allow the chosen point-of-view to take over for a desired effect, like gaining access to a character’s thoughts.

After giving us a glimpse into Jack’s psychology and worldview, Coover switches narrative vantage points and uses a first-person account of the Granny. This choice allows the story to unfold while allowing us different access into the events, in a way that renders the increasingly fantastical elements perhaps more believable as told in first-person. First person allows more psychological and emotional depth and according to Booth, “The deeper our plunge, the more unreliability we will accept without loss of sympathy” (106). Here Booth refers to unreliability of narrator, not necessarily the story, but as Granny is a fantastical character within a fantastical world, first-person increases acceptance of her unreliability. Granny says, “Oh I know why she’s late you warn her and it does no good I know who’s got her giddy ear with his old death-cunt-and-prick songs haven’t I heard them all my God and smelt his hot breath in the singin?” (Coover 15-16). First person point-of-view gives this character’s narration reliability in her personal experience and back story, but also unreliability as she speaks of other characters and story events from her limited vantage point. “In fiction, as soon as we encounter an ‘I’ we are conscious of an experiencing mind whose views of the experience will come between us and the event” (Booth 93). Again, it is the omniscient narrator behind Granny’s first person which allows the dramatic ambiguity to develop the story further. Booth states, “In short the choice of the most rigorously limited point-of-view is really no escape from omniscience—the true narrator is as ‘unnaturally’ all-knowing as he ever was” (103). Thus, the all-knowing first person “portal” of Granny is at once all-knowing of her experience and at the same time extremely limited. It is the omniscience behind the chosen point-of-view which makes the narration work despite such intrinsic limitations and faults, allowing Coover to manipulate it for its advantages.

Lastly, Coover uses the third-person viewpoint of the girl for yet another varied “inside view” similar in construct to Jack’s. We have access to her perceptions and feelings: “Something had changed. She stood motionless at the cottage door. Suspended. She felt abandoned, orphaned. Yet discovered” (Coover 17). More overtly omniscient narration is interwoven throughout where the “second sense” peeks through, as in the following line: “The bees hummed relentlessly among the flowers alongside the path” (17). The crux of the story ends up perhaps relying on this last point-of-view switch as we have gotten first Jack’s view of the girl, then Granny’s harsher view, and the build-up effect of the story depends on us now seeing the character of the girl from her own vantage point, in action while encountering this strange world. From the beginning, Coover’s contract with the reader has been via the omniscient narration operating behind the various points-of-view, allowing him to alter his “portals” as he sees fit to construct fantastical characters in a fantastical world with psychological depth and believability, and in order to achieve his desired dramatic effect.

Works Cited

Booth, Wayne C. “Distance and Point-of-View: An Essay in Classification.” The Theory of the

Novel. Ed. Philip Stevick.New York: The Free Press, 1967. 87-107.

Coover, Robert. Pricksongs and Descants.New York: Grove Press, 1969.

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