The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
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 Omniscient
The Portrait of a Lady is narrated in the third person by an unidentified external voice – the narrator is not a character, nor is he necessarily identified with James himself. The novel’s point of view is omniscient, and often gives us insight on the thoughts and feelings of the characters. But, it remains at an objective distance; despite the fact that the narrator is frequently critical of the characters, and certainly has quite strong opinions, the novel refrains from placing overt judgment on them. The narrator makes use of words like "I" and "we," but we’re never exactly sure whom these terms refer to, nor is this knowledge particularly important to our understanding of the novel. This narrative voice shapes our understanding of the characters, but we are allowed to make our own judgments with regards to their actions.