In the literary world, literary work can serve various purposes. It can be written in order to entertain the audience, or it can serve as means of description of the reality contemporary to the author. On the other hand, it can be a means of communication between the author and the audience. In this context, the author would aim at using various literary means for sending that message and make it comprehensible for the audience. This message can be sent in various ways. They can be expressed through tone, plot, characterisation, point of view, irony, figurative language, setting and attention to certain themes of the work. The aim of this essay is to analyse meaning of point of view in the novel "Middle Passage" by Charles Johnson. This device was chosen because it is the most vivid in its application, and it makes the author's message the most comprehensible for readers. Johnson's message to the audience is that every human being is much more than it may seem from the first glance and, in order to reach one's full potential and role in life, an individual must go through various challenges or adventures.
The narrator of the whole story is the main character Rutherford Calhoun, who is a released slave from Illinois, running from duties marrying a woman in New Orleans. The structure of the whole novel looks like Rutherford's diary, consisting of 9 entries, which describe various days of his life on board of the slave ship Republic. The main peculiarity of the narration is that main character does not describe the vents, but also his interpretation of them and feelings on various occasions. This is especially interesting because of the personality of the main hero and his change over the whole story. In the beginning of the story, he is shown as an irresponsible and quite easygoing person that does not care for any duties or human values of family and home. That is why the initial entries of the novel are quite self-centred and mocking until certain extent. When he describes his childhood and his inclinations to stealing, he argues: "My master, Reverent Peleg Chandler, had noticed this stickiness of my fingers when I was a child, and a tendency I had to tell preposterous lies for the hell of it" (Johnson 3).
In this case, narrator's actual participation in the event and change of attitude contributes to audience's comprehension of the events and horrible reality of slavery. Viewing the events through the eyes of the narrator and feeling it through his senses make the story reliable and accessible for a wide audience. The reliability of the story and narrator's point of view is achieved by his transformation during the whole story. This change can be judged on this further actions and perception of life in general. Unlike in the beginning of the story, Rutherford learns the whole diversity of human feelings from pity, when captain was injured, to acceptance of duty, when he married Isadora (Johnson 143; 205). He also learned how important life was and what it took to gain freedom and an opportunity to have a home of one's own: "I desperately dreamed of home If this weird, upside-down caricature of a country called America, if this land of refugees - this caldron of mongrels from all points on the compass - was all I rightly call home, then aye: I was of it" (Johnson 179).
Thus, reliability of narration is achieved through making the main hero go through all the challenges of the slavery ship travelling in the sea and change of his self-perception and evaluation of life. In this context, the audience begins to believe this character because of his feelings and attitudes expressed in the story, and also through the wisdom gained in the process of survival. The fact that Rutherford is a released slave also contributes to realisation that in order for a person to understand the heritage of ancestors, he should witness some aspects of their history. For the main character, that realization was achieved through facing the reality of slavery and re-evaluation of his luck. This personal discovery was crucial for the audience's reliance on his experience and comprehension of described realities.
Overall, the reliability and personality of the narrator entirely changes the audience's perception of the piece, making it more comprehension and realistic for a wide audience. If the story was told by the third person, it would still send the author's message, but it would not be so personal and human in its perception. In other words, narrator spoke from personal experience and sent personal thoughts on the topic to the potential audience. Thus, the message became more personal and intimate until certain extent. In this context, it can be said that through the introduction of character's narration, the author also managed to make history closer to the contemporary audience. It also makes an impression that this literary work becomes immortal and can be understood by any audience in any time, because it speaks a universally-understandable language of human feelings. In general, the author managed to make historical reality as close to the contemporary audience as it was possible.
Johnson, Charles. Middle Path. New York: Scribner. 1998. Print.