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Pursuing a point of view

Every piece of writing is a lens; it is a way of seeing, it is an angle from which to perceive, view and understand the world. Today, using practical examples from excerpts, we will examine what a point of view is and how we can achieve it in our writing. Let’s go! As we have said, through narration, the writer presents to the readers his or her vision and attitude to the world around him or her. Through the painting of images, skill in narration that produces twists and turns, and vivid description, the writer takes the reader by the …

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This may sound very complicated, but it is not. What it simply means is that there is no neutral writing. Every piece of writing assumes an angle from which to view reality. In other words, every piece of writing is a version of the world the writer chooses. As you write, you can also achieve that. You ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve?”; “From what vantage point should my readers view that which I want to show them?” and so many related questions. In that way, you may be able to direct the reader to the vision you have as presented in your story or narrative. We will now focus on an example.

“Anyone who does not like to study is foolish…and, therefore, the Commissar is right. Do you want to go on being dummy, cheated by everybody…People must study, as it is the only way they can think things out with their own head and not with the head of others. Man must know much, even more and more, to win his freedom, to be able to form judgements. If you don’t understand the words I utter, how can you know if I am speaking soundly or not? You have to ask someone else.

You are always dependent on someone else, you are not free. So everyone must study, the principal aim of a genuine revolution is to make everybody study. But comrade New World here is an innocent, since he believes that there are some who study merely for the good of the people. It is this blindness, this idealism that causes the worst mistakes. It is this blindness, this idealism that causes the worst mistakes. There is nothing unselfish.”

Have you seen that the above extract is not neutral even if it appears so? The narrator here is Fearless, a commander of freedom fighters in the thickets of the struggle. His concern is on the benefit of studying. Have you seen how persuasive he is and how he articulates his vision of the benefit of studying and a good education? For Fearless, studying frees someone from ignorance and depending on the views of other people. Studying allows a person to formulate his own arguments and to perceive the world from a vantage point of knowledge. All what we are explaining constitute a point of view, that is how the writer wants us, as readers to view the world or his version of reality.”

We will focus on the other extract below.

“When I was a kid, before I went to study at the Seminary, something happened to me. I must have been about eight. I got in a row with an older boy and the bloke beat me up. I ran away in fear. I abandoned the fight. For days, I felt a disgrace, a coward, a weakling, felt that any kid could beat me and I would run…I then decided then that, to win back my self-respect, there was only one thing to do: seek revenge. I provoked him again, you can’t imagine how scared I was, I knew that I would take a beating, didn’t have the slightest hope. He was much stronger and brought up on slum fights. I defended myself as best as I could, more from the fear he provoked in me than from the actual blows I received.

In the end it was not painful. My nose was bleeding, that’s why I have a slightly bent nose, as you can see. In the end it was not painful. He was the one who stopped, tired of fighting. I was going on to the end, ready to die if it was necessary, but not to surrender. He ended up saying: you’ve won, I give up. Since then we remained friends…From then on I understood that it was not the blows we suffer that hurt, it is the sense of defeat or of having been a coward. I was never able to run away again. I always wanted to see to what extent I was able to overcome fear.”

What a beautiful narrative! What an evocative portrayal of the writer’s point of view! The narrator describes to us how resilience can be built and gives us the recipe for mastering fear. The extract is a bit philosophical but it helps us as the reader to overcome that which we fear the most by confronting it. Let’s now focus on one last extract.

“I was born in Quibaxe, a Kimbundu area, like the Commissar and the Operations Chief, who are from around there. As bazooka-man, I love to see the trucks laden with troops halted by my workmanship. I think there could be no greater pleasure in life. My land is rich in coffee, but my father was always a poor peasant. I did first year schooling only, and learned the rest here, in the Revolution. I was a child at the time of 1961. But I still remember the spectacle of children bashed against trees, men buried to the neck, with their heads above ground, and a tractor passing to lop off their heads with a blade made up to dig up the earth, to provide wealth for mankind. What pleasure I had just now in destroying that bulldozer! It was like the one that took off my father’s head. The bulldozer is not to blame, it depends on who is driving it, it’s like taking up a weapon.”

This is beautiful writing. The narrator justifies his role as a freedom fighter and what animates him to fight. He gives you his angle animated by his history of suffering. He lost a father owing to that oppression.

So here we are! We can master the art of taking an angle when writing. We want our readers to view reality from our own vantage point.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school. Send your comments and questions to:

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