Julie of the Wolves
by Jean Craighead George
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
Third Person (Limited Omniscient)
Who exactly is telling this story? No one we know, as far as we can tell. At times it almost seems as if Miyax herself is telling us what's going on; we often know what she's thinking and feeling about whatever's happening. But wait: she's referred to in the third person.
That brings us to our narrative technique: a limited, omniscient third person. Miyax is our girl, there's no doubt about it. Throughout the novel, we never know what anyone else is thinking – only what they are saying or expressing on their face. But instead of telling the story entirely from Miyax's point of view, our author has decided to get a little distance from her Eskimo heroine. Not much though. After all, we're clued in on Miyax's feelings.
Take a look at this passage, from early on in the novel:
As she dipped her pot in, she thought about Amaroq. Why had he bared his teeth at her? Because she was young and he knew she couldn't hurt him? No, she said to herself, it was because he was speaking to her! (1.32)
The narrator talks about Miyax in the third person – Amaroq is speaking to "her." But check this out: we also know exactly what she's thinking, as if we've entered her brain. As she asks herself about Amaroq's intentions, we know exactly what questions she's posing. We're given an all-access pass to her thoughts.
And why shouldn't we be? For much of the novel, Miyax is the only one around. Except for those wolves, of course. But wait a minute – how come we're never given access to what the wolves are thinking? Why not have the narrator enter their brains, too?
Ah, but that's just it! We do know what the wolves are thinking. How? Through Miyax, that's how. What a cool way to let us know, too. We get to watch Miyax learn wolf language, follow her thought processes and put the pieces together, and then we get to watch her actually decipher the wolves' communications to her.
If we were given access to the wolves' thoughts, too, this whole awesome exchange would be lost. We'd miss out on the chance to see Miyax's problem-solving prowess, as shown in the passage above. Plus, if we're being honest, we care much more about what Miyax thinks about the wolves than what they think of her. She is a human, after all, and so are we.
So why not just go all in and write the story from the first person point of view, then? We can't pretend to know what Jean Craighead George was thinking when she wrote this one, but we do have one good theory: Miyax is a thirteen-year old. Her language probably isn't all that developed, so we would have a hard time imagining her saying things like, "No roads cross it; ponds and lakes freckle its immensity," (1.2) which the author says of the North Slope. Such beautiful lines are part of what makes this novel so lovely, and if it were written in the voice of a thirteen-year-old (or even a non-awesome adult), we might have to lose just a bit of that loveliness.