Omniscient means all-knowing. Third-person omniscient point of view is used when the author wants to tell the story from the perspective of more than one character. Using this point of view allows the reader to see the same events from different perspectives. It also allows the reader to witness events that are important to the story but aren’t experienced by all characters. For example, in the excerpt you read from The Giver, the unidentified plane was described as “frightening” from Jonas’s point of view, so as readers, we believe that Jonas had reason to be scared. What if another character’s point of view had been included, though, and he or she found the plane “exciting” or even “ordinary”? As readers, we would have more information to use to evaluate the situation.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997). This chapter introduces the reader to some important information about the world that Harry Potter, a young wizard living in England, inhabits.
. . . At half past eight, Mr. Dursley picked up his briefcase, pecked Mrs. Dursley on the cheek, and tried to kiss Dudley good-bye but missed, because Dudley was now having a tantrum and throwing his cereal at the walls. "Little tyke," chortled Mr. Dursley as he left the house. He got into his car and backed out of number four's drive. It was on the corner of the street that he noticed the first sign of something peculiar—a cat reading a map. For a second, Mr. Dursley didn't realize what he had seen—then he jerked his head around to look again. There was a tabby cat standing on the corner of Privet Drive, but there wasn't a map in sight. What could he have been thinking of? It must have been a trick of the light. Mr. Dursley blinked and stared at the cat. It stared back. As Mr. Dursley drove around the corner and up the road, he watched the cat in his mirror. It was now reading the sign that said Privet Drive—no, looking at the sign; cats couldn't read maps or signs. . . .
The beginning of the chapter is clearly being told from the perspective of Harry Potter’s uncle and guardian, Mr. Dursley. We only know what the character of Mr. Dursley is thinking. For example, we don’t know what the cat thinks while reading the map. The third-person point of view is limited to Mr. Dursley. Later in that same chapter, long after the Dursleys have gone to bed, Albus Dumbledore appears. The cat then turns into Professor McGonagall. If the chapter had been written in a third-person limited point of view, the chapter would have ended when Mr. Dursley went to bed because the narrator would have been limited to only Mr. Dursley’s thoughts. By using an omniscient point of view, Rowling is able to switch from writing about Mr. Dursley and his thoughts to Dumbledore and his conversation with Professor McGonagall that is below.
. . . A man appeared on the corner the cat had been watching, appeared so suddenly and silently you'd have thought he'd just popped out of the ground. The cat's tail twitched and its eyes narrowed. Nothing like this man had ever been seen on Privet Drive. He was tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt. He was wearing long robes, a purple cloak that swept the ground, and high-heeled, buckled boots. His blue eyes were light, bright, and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice. This man's name was Albus Dumbledore. Albus Dumbledore didn’t seem to realize that he had just arrived in a street where everything from his name to his boots was unwelcome. . . .
. . . "Fancy seeing you here, Professor McGonagall." He turned to smile at the tabby, but it had gone. Instead he was smiling at a rather severe-looking woman who was wearing square glasses exactly the shape of the markings the cat had had around its eyes. She, too, was wearing a cloak, an emerald one. Her black hair was drawn into a tight bun. She looked distinctly ruffled. "How did you know it was me?" she asked. "My dear Professor, I've never seen a cat sit so stiffly. . . .”
If J. K. Rowling only wanted to tell the story from Harry Potter’s perspective, this chapter would not be included in the novel because Harry’s point of view is not shown. The third-person omniscient point of view introduces the reader to the magical world Harry Potter is about to enter and gives the reader information that Harry will not learn until more of his story is told.
Now that you’ve reviewed the different points of view, complete the following activity.