The View from Saturday
by E. L. Konigsburg
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 and First Person Limited
The View from Saturday is told in Third Person (Omniscient)—except when it's told in Third Person (Limited Omniscient). Oh, and First Person (Central Narrator). Times four.
Basically, The View from Saturday can't make up its mind.
It starts off simply enough: "Mrs. Eva Marie Olinski always gave good answers" (1.1). Great. This is your basic Third Person (Limited) narrator, laying things out for us. We can't be sure that it's limited, but since we start off with someone's name, it's a pretty good bet that the narrative is going to focus on her thoughts.
Since we're on such a roll, let's keep going:
People still remark about how extraordinary it was to have four sixth graders make it to the finals. (1.4)
Okay, slight revise. This is looking more like Third Person (Omniscient), since the narrator is now is the present tense ("remark") and is speaking not just for Mrs. Olinski but for the whole town—or maybe even the state. And again:
Mrs. Olinski knew whose it was. She was sure of it. She leaned back and relaxed. She was not nervous. Excited, yes. Nervous, no. (1.13)
Uh-oh. The first part of this passage starts off in Third Person (Limited), but something happens at the end. "Excited, yes. Nervous, no." That part isn't exactly the narrator, is it? It's like the narrator slips into the character's voice but forgot to tell us. Hm. Let's bracket that for now and move on to…
"Noah Writes a B & B Letter." Each of The Souls gets his or her very own story to tell in the first person, good old "First Person (Central Narrator)." This would be relaxing, since at least it's clear whose perspective we're getting, if it weren't that each of the four stories tells a different version of the same, or similar events, which means that we have to piece together what happens.
After the first four chapters with their embedded first-person narratives, the story goes back to our third-person narrator. But something odd happens. As the competition heats up, the individual "I" or first-person voices that are used in Ethan, Noah, Nadia, and Julian's chapters start becoming part of the third-person narrator's voice.
Think back to the way Noah always talks about "facts." Like here, when he's realizing that The Souls need to support Mrs. Olinski: "'Of course, I have heard that expression, but fact: Mrs. Olinski cannot stand on her own two feet and further fact: she obviously…' Noah's voice trailed off as he understood" (4.27).
In chapter six, the narrator slips into exactly the same kind of language: "They beat grade seven, almost doubled their score. Fact: No sixth grade team had ever defeated a seventh grade team. They were scheduled to go up against grade eight. Further fact: No sixth grade had ever competed against the eighth because no sixth grade had ever gotten that far" (6.9). So, the third-person narrator starts to sound a lot like a character, even though it's not the character's turn to speak. In other words, Konigsburg is throwing around some (okay, a lot of) free indirect discourse.
What's the point of all this narrative showmanship? It's not unheard of for books to have more than one narrator, but it's definitely a little unusual to have four first-person narrators and one (or two, or three) third-person narrator. Frustrating? Maybe. We're not saying it's easy to piece together what's going on. But it's also kind of cool. The book is puzzle, just like Julian's tea party invitations is a puzzle. By following the clues, the three kids become The Souls—and by following Konigburg's clues, we help turn this collection of stories into a narrative whole.