AP Lit Skill Spotlight: Narrator

Prose Analysis Lesson - Narrator - AP Lit & More
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NAR 4.A, the first skill in the Narration category, is relatively simple. It asks students to examine the narrator of a text. In poetry students would study the speaker, but this spotlight is examining the narrator in a prose text. The CED lists only 2 suggested questions for 4.A:

  1. Who is the narrator or speaker of a text?
  2. Which details from the text indicate the identity of the narrator or speaker?

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Introducing Narrator with Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

There are many ways to introduce narrator, but Christina Farella from the AP® Lit Facebook group suggested using a scene from Stranger Than Fiction. I’m particularly fond of that movie since I got an opportunity to be an extra in it, so naturally that’s the one I’m going with!

The opening scene of Stranger Than Fiction introduces us to Harold Crick, the protagonist of the film. Crick, a fastidious IRS agent, lives a lonely and mundane life. The purpose of a narrator is often to shed light on the story’s characters, but when we turn the camera around and examine the narrator, we can learn more about the story itself.

Watch this scene and examine the narrator. What do you notice about her?

Stranger Than Fiction
The opening scene of Stranger Than Fiction introduces us to both Harold Crick and the narrator, Karen Eiffel.

After viewing this scene, we learn several things about the narrator:

  • She gives us insights into Harold’s thoughts and emotions
  • The narrator talks about him in a straightforward, unapologetic manner
  • She speaks in a British accent
  • She also provides the thoughts of Harold’s wristwatch

The movie’s conflict begins when Harold begins to hear his narrator’s thoughts, including the fact that he is moving quickly towards his death.

Focus Text: “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

It was hard to pick a focus text for NAR 4.A since so many would work for it, but in the end I went with “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros. I love this story because it’s relatable, approachable, and short. You can find the story online and assign it out to your students.

Student Analysis

  1. Who is the narrator of “Eleven?”
  2. How does the narrator’s perspective grant us information about the protagonist?
  3. What details does the narrator share to illuminate the text’s conflict?
  4. What other elements, such as diction, syntax, and figurative language, contribute to the text’s narration and characterization?

Teacher’s Guide

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  1. The narrator of “Eleven” is the protagonist, Rachel.
  2. Because of the text’s first-person point of view, we are given a perspective of an eleven-year-old.
  3. The narrator gives us her version of the events in “Eleven,” where a teacher mistakenly believes the sweater belongs to her. The narrator tells us that “that stupid Sylvia Saldívar” first said the sweater was Rachel’s, implying that Rachel has a conflict with Sylvia. Rachel’s preoccupation with age coincides with her eleventh birthday, something more common in children as well. Overall, the details Rachel shares contribute to her child-like perspective and her precocious attitude.
  4. As said before, Rachel employs childlike diction throughout the text, such as calling Russian nesting dolls “the little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other.” It builds a character that is intelligent, but still only eleven. Certain sentences show unique syntax to mirror Rachel’s frenzied thoughts. She repetition, such as “Not mine, not mine, not mine” after the initial accusation. She also uses run-on sentences when overwhelmed, such as the paragraph composed of just one sentence beginning with, ” This is when I wish I wasn’t eleven, because all the years…” The narrator also uses figurative language to mirror the thought process of an eleven-year-old, comparing her sobbing body to having the hiccups or drinking milk too fast. Overall, these strategies strengthen the narrator’s perspective, building empathy in the reader and endearing us to Rachel. Although the conflict seems small to an adult, the narrator allows us to see that this is a tragic day for an eleven-year-old.

Suggested Texts for Studying Narrator

Here is a list of suggested short stories or novels to excerpt for studying narrator. Thanks to the educators on the AP® Lit Facebook group for all of the great suggestions!

  • “The Moonlit Road” or “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce
  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D. H. Lawrence
  • Misery by Stephen King
  • “The Birthday Party” by Katherine Mansfield
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • “Sucker” by Carson McCuller
  • “Gorilla, My Love” by Toni Cade Bambara
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • “Deportation at Breakfast” by Larry Fondation
  • “Snow” by Ann Beattie
  • “A & P” by John Updike
  • “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
  • “Little Things” by Raymond Carver
  • “My Oedipus Complex” by Frank O’Connor
  • “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin
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