by Saint Augustine
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Central Narrator)/Augustine
It contains much that you will not be pleased to see: this I know and do not hide. (I.5.2)
The "you" in this case is not actually the reader. It's God. Okay, so this is a book addressing God. Guess we can all go home and never think about narrative techniques in Confessions again. Right?
First of all, it's not like Augustine's sins are news to God. He does know all of the past and all of the future, after all, so he's not eagerly awaiting the publication of this Confessions tell-all just so he can see what Augustine has been up. It's not like how we felt waiting for the last Harry Potter book to come out, you know?
So, we think confessing to God through this book is a kind of conceit. In this case, we mean that, as readers, we don't totally believe Augustine is just confessing his sins to God in this book, but we pretend that we do for the sake of the book. We pretend that we're not pretending. Because Augustine tells us to. We know that God already knows all of the things that Augustine is confessing, but the important part is not so much what Augustine is revealing so much as the fact that he is revealing it.
Augustine actually has to maintain this conceit in order to be able to write his book. See, God is really the only person to whom Augustine should be confessing, because the opinions of people don't really matter. And writing something for a public audience can also get one into all kinds of trouble because of that messy Pride business (check out our Themes section for more on pride in Confessions).
But, if God already knows all about Augustine's sins, he could theoretically just confess to God in private. And Augustine wants to write a book because he wants other people to be able to learn from his example:
I need not tell all this to you, my God, but in your presence I tell it to my own kind, to those other men, however few, who may perhaps pick up this book. And I tell it so that I and all who read my words may realize the depths from which we are to cry to you. (II.3.1)
To break it down, then, we know that Augustine is supposed to only confess to God, even though he wants us to read his book and convert, and somehow, he also needs to show us readers that we only really answer to God for our sins. So Augustine has to write the book as though he is confessing to God alone… with a reader who happens to be there to witness it. Still with us?
Importantly, Augustine reminds readers throughout the book that their opinions of his Confessions don't really matter. For example, he says, "it is to you [God] in your mercy that I speak, not to a man, who would simply laugh at me" (I.6.1).
In sum, Augustine is walking a thin line here between the demands of the spiritual world, and the reality of the earthly one. Man, this writing for multiple audiences business is tough.