Four Persons Walk Into a Bar

Bunch of bar drinksDarwin and Juliette are walking down a street in Paris with Domenick and Janna. The two couples are both fairly young, in their late 20s, and they are on vacation in Paris for the first time. They sit together at a small table outside, as it’s a beautiful summer afternoon, at a small bar on the Boulevard Saint-Michel. Darwin and Juliette are practicing being sophisticated, to see what fits and whether this is how they should be in the future, so they are both drinking Chambord liqueur. Domenick doesn’t care about practicing sophistication, as he’s pretty sure he’s already on his way there, so he’s drinking a Kronenbourg beer, while Janna has a glass of house red wine.

Maybe because they’re on vacation and in the mood for a little adventure, or maybe because this is the second bar they’ve stopped at (so they’re a little tipsy), or maybe just because they’re young and willing to try new things, all four of them have agreed to go along with helping to illustrate how the literary idea of “person” works in fiction. Before they were asked to do this, they were talking about train schedules, but they’ve agreed to help out.

Back home in Virginia, Janna is an English teacher, so she wanted to explain the basic idea. “Person” she says, “is the point of view, the way you see things in the story. If it’s written as I, that’s first person, second person is you, and third person is he or she, or maybe they.” She takes a sip of her wine and looks at Domenick, who will begin.

Domenick (first person): I was in Paris with my wife for the first time, and we did a lot of the usual tourist stuff, which is OK, isn’t it? We were tourists and had never been there. I’m afraid of heights, so I just stayed on the ground to look up at the Eiffel Tower, and I’ll tell you, just looking up at it was plenty. When somebody suggested, Juliette maybe, that we should take a boat ride on the Seine River, I was all over that. I love boats. We went in the afternoon, and when we first sat down I thought this is going to be so cool, floating right through Paris on a boat. I was also thinking it was too bad they didn’t sell drinks on the boat.

Janna (second person): A boat ride on the Seine would be pretty nice, you think, the bateau mouches they’re called. You remember a little bit of high school French, and you know that “bateau” means “boat”, but what is a “mouche”? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. With your husband and your friends you get on the boat, everybody happy and relaxed, and you see that the boat holds a lot of people, from all over the place. You hear an elderly couple talking and you can tell from their accent that they’re English. Sitting very close by is a family of a father and mother with a little boy, but they also have a teenage daughter who looks like she’s about 15 years old. They’re all dressed in expensive clothes, and you wonder where they’re from. You can hear them talking a language you don’t know, which doesn’t help, but then you hear “da” and “nyet” and you at least know enough to know that’s Russian.

Juliette (third person written close to a character): She was afraid a boat ride would be a little boring and she would rather have hunted for the Sainte-Chapelle church, but the other three seemed so excited that she went along and didn’t say anything. The straw hat she had bought from a street vendor was tied under her chin with a ribbon, so it didn’t blow off. Once they were sitting on the boat and it left the mooring, to begin floating down the river, the began to like it more than she had expected, especially when she saw the Notre Dame cathedral. Her friend Janna pointed out a rich Russian family, and Juliette noticed pretty quickly that something was not going well. The teenage daughter was scowling and then began having an argument with her mother. It looked like the father tried to tell the girl to be quiet or stop arguing, although Juliette didn’t know what they were saying. The girl looked at her father and glared, then said something he didn’t like.

Darwin (third person written distant from the character): One of the common boats that run up and down the Seine night and day passed under a bridge, as tourists on the boat and on the bridge looked at one another. A group of four Americans sat together talking and pointing out sights to one another. One of the men, a graphic designer named Darwin, was looking down the river, paying little attention to the other passengers, so he only noticed a teenage girl nearby when she raised her voice and stood up. At that point, along with many people around the girl, he turned to look at her. Her voice grew louder, and she began yelling at the older couple who must have been her parents. To the shock of everyone, the girl suddenly turned to climb up on the edge of the boat, and then she jumped into the river. She was surprised how warm the water was as she entered it.

As we finish our illustration of different ways of presenting point of view, it turns out that sitting nearby in the bar, finishing his third whiskey, is an American English professor, who has been listening the entire time. Now he wants to get involved, to explain some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method for writing fiction. But no one wants to hear that, and the four friends hurry off to catch a train to Versailles.

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