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Flows of Reading

Engaging with Texts

Erin Reilly, Ritesh Mehta, Henry Jenkins, Authors
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3.1 Point of View (POV)

Basic to all literary texts is the notion of point of view, which refers to the particular perspective, angle or interest with which the narrator presents the story or message of the text. In common parlance, we talk about taking a point of view when we say, “Put yourself in my shoes.” That is, we ask of another: consider what I am saying from my point of view. Actually putting yourself in someone else's shoes is hard. Understanding a message from another's point of view is even more challenging when you are unfamiliar with the social context. Think of yourself as a tourist, even in your own country. You may speak the language, but the local community is strange to you. You would understand the culture better if you could understand the community's way of looking at and understanding  the world. 

Consider, for instance, the social context of gift-giving in India. In some Indian communities, the exchange of wedding gifts is minimal; in other communities, it is lavish. People from the latter community invited to a wedding in the former might initially find it difficult to appreciate the latter's reluctance to accept gifts; they may not be acquainted with or accepting of the different norm. They may insist that the hosts accept their gift, triggering negotiations marked by pleasantries, elaborate hand gestures, smiles, and pleadings. The host can remain bound by their norm and may persistently yet politely refuse the lavish gift, or they might uphold a different yet more widely-held norm, that of treating one's guest as god and thus accepting the gift despite cultural differences.

When diverse perspectives are forced to interplay, a good strategy is to combine negotiation with a clear understanding and acceptance of prevalent and relevant social norms. This strategy also applies to literary texts. Taking a point of view makes the unfamiliar understandable. It gives breadth and depth to complex situations, paving the way for the possible recreation of social norms. 

ACTIVITY: Negotiating Norms

Entertaining multiple points of view enables us to communicate across our differences and better understand others' perspectives.

Examine closely the following spread from David Wiesner’s Flotsam. If need be, use the strategies for Slowing Down and Reading discussed in the Continuities and Silences Track.

1.     Make a note of the various creatures you see.

For this activity, let’s focus on the relationship between the blue-green creatures and the giant sea horses.

2.     Write down three qualities that define each group.

3.     Write down one similarity between the two groups.

4.     Write down two differences between the two groups.

5.  Now, rephrase the differences you mentioned in #4 in the language of one of the groups. For instance, write down a conversation the two giant sea horses would have with each other that explains how the sea horses see the blue-green creatures as different from themselves.

6.     Repeat #5 from the point of view of the blue-green creatures.

7.     Now, write down the goals of each group.

8.     Determine where their goals overlap and where they conflict.

9.    Ask if the setting of the image is a neutral space, or does it represent the home turf for one of the groups?

10.  Having done this, ask yourself, whose point of view do you share: that of the sea horses or the blue-green creatures? Think about how their points of view affected the way you described the qualities and goals of each group?

11.  Finally, ask yourself : Is is really possible to embody the point of view of a group with whom you do not relate? Write any thoughts you may have.

Click on the activity below.  This will take you to the PLAY! platform where we have created a Flows of Reading community of practice.  Here, you can register and participate in this reflection on norms.

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