Narrator contrasts with the characters

In third person, the narrator can have their own opinion about characters and events in the story.

For instance, in Peter Pan, Smee thinks of himself as a terrifying pirate who should be feared and hated by all.

But what does the narrator think of Smee?

There was little sound, and none agreeable save the whir of the ship’s sewing machine at which Smee sat, ever industrious and obliging, the essence of the commonplace, pathetic Smee. I know not why he was so infinitely pathetic, unless it were because he was so pathetically unaware of it.

Peter Pan(1911)


The narrator says Smee is:

  • industrious
  • obliging
  • the essence of the commonplace
  • infinitely pathetic, and
  • pathetically unaware of how pathetic he is.

This assessment of Smee is completely different to the way he sees himself.

That's one of the great powers of the third person narrator: that they can add a contrasting perspective.

The word 'pathetic' has changed meaning over times.

The modern meaning is something like 'miserably inadequate'.

But the older meaning is a lot more along the lines of 'arousing emotion' (notice the stem –path is shared with empathy).

Over time the word evolved a meaning along the lines of 'arousing pity because of vulnerability or sadness'.

Maybe what happened was the 'vulnerability' part began to be associated with 'inferiority' and so treated with contempt, which is how we get the common modern meaning.

In the context of Peter Pan, Smee is a kind of comical, clueless innocent (for a murderous pirate) who instead of being feared by children is quite loved by them, and the narrator sort-of means 'pathetic' in an affectionate way.

What does Frederik think of himself and his idea, and what does the narrator think?

The pair of them turned about in their grand home, admiring themselves and each other, and then Frederik had the idea to commission a painting of themselves, dressed exactly as they were, in this exact room. He was so pleased with himself, this tiny man who thought himself big, that he did not see in his grand idea the seeds of his own ruin.

What does Cody think about her future, and what does the narrator think?

She skated through the empty streets watching her shadow dial past under the copper lights. She would be home soon. Except she wouldn’t, because home wasn't there anymore. Home was long gone. Sure, the house was there, but her parents and brother were right now in baskets swinging from the shoulders of a giant witch, who was carrying them into the woods beyond the edge of town. And Cody wouldn't find that out for another 20 minutes.


  • Follow the snippet, and describe a character from the narrator's point of view only. 
    • (The Peter Pan snippet doesn't mention how Smee sees himself, but even without context we can guess that Smee doesn't think of himself as pathetic.)
  • Follow the examples, and include some description about what the character thinks or feels, and then have the narrator add a different perspective.

Either is fine, but the example approach is probably clearer for a standalone snippet like this.

Write a snippet in which the narrator expresses a contrasting opinion about a character or events.

If you've done the lesson on Point of View, you might remember that in third person a narrator can, if they want, stop narrating the story and just start talking to the audience about their own opinions about... anything.

We saw a little of that in the snippet above ("I know not why he was so infinitely pathetic...") but we can take it further.