Voice and Identity in Fiction

Voice in a novel is perhaps easiest to characterize when the novel is written in first person. First person narration is quite popular because it puts the reader directly inside the main character’s head. While I love first person narration for its ability to let me actually hear the character talk, I find that the style tends to be overused and often executed badly. Voice is a little more difficult to characterize when the novel is written in third person. Here, the main character’s life and thoughts tend to trickle in slowly. I recently read a couple of novels by Cormac McCarthy (All The Pretty Horses, The Crossing). Voice in his novels is even more difficult to characterize because he writes in third person and does not give the reader any insights into what the characters are feeling. Instead, he relies on subtle and vivid descriptions of setting and plot to evoke his characters and give them life.

A search for identity seems to be the dominant theme in American literature. Characters are in constant search of who they are within the greater scope of society. Furthermore, this search for identity is often in contrast with the myth of individualism that American society fosters. I say that it’s a myth not because individualism doesn’t exist but because societies are composed of communities and communities are not created by a whole bunch of iconoclasts (individuals, in the true sense). As a result, characters in American literature are in constant tension with their individual communities even if they’re not being oppressed by society as a whole.

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