Is Point of View Sacred?

After reading Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent , I wonder.

I like finding old copies of old books in old book stores. Last summer, I happened upon the Steinbeck classic, The Winter of Our Discontent, in a little shop in Depot Bay. It was stamped with markings from the Multnomah County Library. I was hooked.

This spring , I finally got around to reading it.

Somewhere in the first few chapters, the story changes from third person omnipresent to first person. Is this a mistake or a risk in style only masters are allowed?

Curious as to the genesis of this oddity, I read several reviews online, some from when the book was first released a half-century ago. Although many reviewers made reference to Steinbeck’s shift in p.o.v., none seemed to have an explanation. It made me wonder, had he ever explained his choice? I found no evidence that he did.

I have never considered changing p.o.v in midstream. It would be like changing the setting or a character’s name without explanation. But, apparently, Steinbeck found it a useful lever with which to propel his story. Hopefully, someday, I will learn the reason why.


4 thoughts on “Is Point of View Sacred?

  1. I’ve never read The Winter of Our Discontent, so I might have to find a copy of my own sometime.

    I think changing POV is risky — if used as a gimmick, it will almost certainly cause disaster, I think. In a good story and if it makes sense to the telling of it, I can imagine it would be okay.


    • Well said Steve. I sometimes wonder, before the ease of re-writing and editing brought on by computers, how much of what we now view as masterful “style” was actually unintended. Hemingway’s “Islands in the Stream” is a good example. It was published a decade after his death. I wonder how different it would have been had he been alive during the editing process.


  2. Chelsea says:

    I find it interesting that you would post this as I find myself reading a different book which does the same thing! Well, the author actually switches back and forth between first and third and at this only with a chosen few of the characters. At first it was a little confusing (and irritating I will admit) but now that I am further into the book I realize that it actually gives an appreciated twist to the existing complexities of the story. With the beginning of each new chapter I find myself excited to see who will be next to tell the story. The variation in storyteller from character to character to narrator gives a deeper look into each detail whereas the single standpoint would leave out so much of what makes the story rich in imagery (without going on for three pages about what color the wallpaper is).

    I have come across other novels which switch things up like this series but none display a necessity for it. While I cannot comment on Steinbeck’s motives or usage as I have not read The Winter of Our Discontent, I believe Gabaldon (my author) has utilized the method.

    Always good to hear your thoughts! 🙂


    • And yours too, Chels. In “The Deep End of the Ocean” the author titles each chapter after the character telling the story in that chapter, but it always stays third person(s). Very helpful, especially when one of the characters actually changes his name halfway through the story.
      In Steinbeck’s case, I see no master plan. Perhaps I’m just missing something.


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