I am considering using the first person for a story I am developing. One of the main benefits of using the first person is the closeness with the reader it generates.

However, I am not sure that this closeness is desired in my particular case. My protagonist thinks he is going crazy, at the end he realizes he is not, but most of the book relates the downward spiral of madness. I am systematically robbing my character of any familiar ground, material wealth, social status, companionship and finally rational mind. There is a gradual slide toward the mental asylum.

In stories dealing with madness, it seems there is often a "healthy" distance either by using the 3d person or by using a different narrator than the protagonist like in a “streetcar named desire”.

I am concerned that the reader may have trouble with the stronger identification of the first person, due to the mental degradation of the character. Yet, obviously it is the reader that I am trying to reach, particularly as this is the first novel of a trilogy, so I do want him/her to strongly identify with the hero.

So, are alienation and insanity ok in the 1sth person, or is it better to give the reader some distance by using the 3d limited?

  • Faulkner, The sound and the Fury
    – user5645
    Jun 14, 2015 at 10:00

1 Answer 1


I would have thought that alienation and insanity are much better done using the first person than the third: you see what the character is thinking and feeling. The reader can be the judge of what is rational and what isn't, given the same information the character has. It doesn't mean the character is right. It doesn't mean the reader is right. Tension can be created between what the reader thinks is happening and what the character says is happening.

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