“The Night Circus”: First, Second, and Third Person
Did you know there are three kinds of second person?
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First, Second, AND Third Person in One Book
So now let’s get to The Night Circus. Aside from the story, what made this book so interesting to me was that it used all three types of grammatical person--first, second, and third. The main part of the story uses third person, but it has a few quotations at the beginning of sections that are presented as first person quotations from one of the characters in the book who writes about the circus. For example, here’s part of the quotation that begins the last part of the book:
I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus.
Standard Second Person: Part of the Story
Morgenstern invokes the second person very early, on page two in my edition, and that’s when I knew I was in for something interesting. The idea is to pull you into the story, to make you feel as if you are visiting the circus. Here’s the first instance:
“What kind of circus is only open at night?” people ask. No one has a proper answer, yet as dusk approaches there is a substantial crowd of spectators gathering outside the gates.
You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.
[[AdMiddle]Those types of short, second person passages are pretty evenly distributed through the book, always at the beginning of a chapter or section.
Second person is rare in fiction. One other commonly cited example is the novel Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, and his narrative is a lot like the second person sections from The Night Circus. For example, in this passage the author is asking the readers to imagine themselves in the scene:
At the subway station you wait fifteen minutes on the platform for a train. Finally, a local, enervated by graffiti, shuffles into the station.You get a seat and hoist a copy of the New York Post.
Brian Richardson, the author of a book titled Unnatural Voices: Extreme narration in modern and contemporary fiction, calls this kind of approach “standard second person.”
Next: Other Types of Second Person