Study Guide

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich Narrator Point of View

By William L. Shirer

Narrator Point of View

Third Person (Objective) and First Person (Peripheral Narrator)

In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Shirer speaks to us as both a journalist and an historian, which means that he occasionally speaks to us in a first-person narrative voice (as he relates events that he witnessed in person), and often speaks to us in a scholarly, more-or-less-objective tone.

For example, we see his first-person point of view come through in passages like these, where Shirer situates himself as an active participant in and observer of the narrative he's unfolding:

  • It was at this time, in the late summer of 1934, that I came to live and work in the Third Reich. There was much that impressed, puzzled and troubled a foreign observer about the new Germany. (2.8.1)
  • Until I faced him slumped in the dock at Nuremberg, on trial for his life as a war criminal, I never saw him without a whip in his hand or in his belt, and he laughing boasted about the countless lashings he had meted out. (1.2.86)
  • To me as I sat in the Reichstag […] and listened to Hitler utter his appeal for peace, it seemed like an old gramophone record being replayed for the fifth or sixth time. (4.19.48)

Often in the book, the reader is bouncing along (well, maybe slogging is more like it) when passages like these jump out to remind us that this guy was there. He heard the speeches and the radio broadcasts, went to the rallies, traveled with Hitler to meetings as part of the press corps—and sent back to America reports, in print and on the radio, of what he'd seen.

By positioning himself as a living, involved observer of the rise and fall of the Third Reich, Shirer makes it easy for readers to identify with his journalistic perspective. Just as he watches, witnesses, and records what he sees, so too do readers "see" what life in Germany was like in those days—though we should remember, of course, that we're seeing it it through Shirer's eyes in particular.

We also see a more detached, traditionally academic point of view throughout much of TRFTR. For example, Shirer writes in one passage:

The so-called Nuremberg Laws of September 15, 1935, deprived the Jews of German citizenship, confining them to the status of "subjects." It also forbade marriage between Jews and Aryans as well as extramarital relations between them, and it prohibited Jews from employing female Aryan servants under thirty-five years of age. In the next few years some thirteen decrees supplementing the Nuremberg Laws would outlaw the Jew completely. (2.8.8)

Here, Shirer refrains from adding his own personal opinion as a supplement to the information he provides. Although he makes his feelings about anti-Semitism clearer in other passages throughout the book, in this one he limits himself to just the facts, ma'am.