Importance of using the second-person point of view in a story -Jordyn Ferguson

In Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine uses her encounters with racism, second point of view, and imagery to allow readers to experience the encounters first hand rather than observing from afar. On page 7, Rankine states, “send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lungs… they drown you in sound… like lighting they strike you across the larynx.” This descriptive passage is a reaction to the memory of a friend calling Rankin by her black  housekeepers name. The description of how this made her feel is then passed on to the reader by using strong words of imagery. The words make you get a feeling dumbfoundedness and sadness. Throughout the book and especially in this passage by using the second person it makes you feel it is happening to you personally. Even though from an outside perspective this could have just been seen as a mistake but by using “you” and “yourself” you picture how you would feel if you were involved in this econterment. A friend calling Rankine by a black housekeepers name makes her feel angry because is she being called that because “you two were the only black people in her life” or was is because she was distracted and did not realize that she had called her that? (Rankine 7). By the friend calling her that makes for an uncomfortable situation to speak up or correct someone and with the use of imagery it shows that. 

The encounters with racism and the second point of view is displayed again on page 15 when Rankine recalls the story of when her neighbor called the police on her black male friend who is babysitting her child, whom he thought was disturbed and breaking into the home. The neighbor took it upon himself to call the police before she could explained to him that he was friend babysitting. This action shows how racism is displayed in this passage. If the man in the house was white the neighbor would have probably not noticed anything off but since he was of color the neighbor felt it was needed to call the police. Using the second point of view throughout this passage makes the reader feel like you are in this situation and puts a sense of anger and feeling of uncomfortableness within them. The feeling of uncomfortableness happens when Rankine states on page 15 “your friend is speaking to you neighbor when you arrive home… your neighbor has apologized to your friend and is now apologizing to you”. 

Rankine’s encounternments continue on page 18 when she goes to visit her therapist whom she has only spoken with on the phone but is now going to meet for the first time. Rankin states that “when the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get aways from my house! What are you doing in my yard?”. By using the words “yells, at the top of her lungs” readers can picture how the woman is screaming and how Rankine is standing there. To compare and explain the level of aggression, it is later described “as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepard has gained the power of speech” (Rankine 18). This instance stresses the idea of racism and how even such a minor thing as knocking on a door as a black woman, for an appointment can be made into a big deal. By using the second point of view it makes the reader feel as if they are the one walking out the door and getting yelled at. At the end of the counterment on page 18 the Rankine’s therapist states “I am so sorry, so, so sorry” but this seems meaningless because there was no reason to yell and Rankine in the first place.

When looking at these smaller encounterments they may just be seen as mistakes or not big deals but when the reader looks at these together it shows all of these microaggressions add up and even though they seem like honest mistakes they make the person they are happening to frustrated and angry. 

Discussion questions:

  1. How does the second point of view make you, as the reader feel? Would it make a difference if it was third person or first person point of view?
  2.  What are some other examples of imagery seen throughout the sections?

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Penguin, 2015.

14 Replies to “Importance of using the second-person point of view in a story -Jordyn Ferguson”

  1. Hey Jordyn, I thought this was a great analysis of the second person point of view in the book. I think the second person was important to establish a sort of common ground between the reader and Rankine. In the first line, Rankine states “When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among pillows” (Rankine 5). Rankine easily establishes her ability to relate with the reader because there is no doubt that we have all been there while trying to fall asleep or as we are just waking up. I also think that it was really important for Rankine to use the second person point of view, even when she spoke about racism, because of how effective it is to not only grab the reader’s attention, but it also makes them think. It can make the reader think “Oh I might have done this” or “Wow I don’t know if I’ve ever done that”. Even if they do think of the latter, it still caused them to think about what their actions have been and what they have been subjected to. The main idea here is to make the reader think and realize for themselves about how intense and how people affected by racism think and act due to the things they are subjected to. Overall great blog post, I really liked reading!

  2. Yes Jordyn, I agree that as a reader you put yourself in Rankine’s shoes. It was hard hearing what Serena Williams had to go through. Serena is a very strong woman when the audience was racist towards her. Black people feel when this happens, Rankine states, “They’ve been sad, ignored, booed mightily” (26). It feels as if a person was a piece of property, than an actual person. Serena was able to still stand there and play tennis, when the white people were all against Serena. Serena was so angry, she states, “I swear to God I’m fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God” (29). This is a powerful quote, Serena is standing up for herself and the others could not handle it but Serena handles what every other offensive word white people say. Serena will not just stand there and watch herself get bullied. People do not like that she had stood up for herself. She was fined with $82,500, (30). It was not fair that the white people did not get a fine for throwing all the mean comments and hate at her.

  3. Hey Jordyn!
    I really liked your analysis. I think this book is so much different from the other books we’ve already read, because of the way it’s written. This book being written in the second-person point of view really gives the reader the chance to connect with the author.
    Rankine discusses the terrible situations she’s been in and others she’s come to know of, however, instead of talking about these situations and giving us the full story, she gives the readers situations THEY could be in; by using, “you”.
    I think by using, “you”, it makes the audience feel uncomfortable as she gives them scenarios where they could be the victim of racism or the racist one.
    For instance, like what you’ve mentioned, on page 15, Rankine describes how her neighbor called the cops on her friend, who was black, and on page 18, when the therapist screamed at the top of her lungs, “Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard!”
    This shows how blacks have been dehumanized by people in society within normal day life situations.

  4. Hi Jordyn, I really like how you discussed how the whole first part of the book was in second person. This is also so much different than the books we have read in class before because the first eighteen pages or so were very short stories. I think that anyone can tell a story, but in third person, it is clear that the author is talking about a different person, and in first person, the author is usually talking about himself/herself. By using second person, for example, “she never actually saw you sitting there” (6) Rankine is putting you in the perspective that this action is happening to, and taking you along for the journey.

  5. Hi Jordyn,
    I liked your analysis a lot. I found it to be a great analysis of Rankine’s use of the second person point of view. I feel that the second person perspective she writes in allows the reader to not only feel a little uncomfortable, but also helps to get the reader’s attention by making them feel like they are in that certain situation. Rankine is able to tell of stories from this perspective that make us feel a certain type of way, like when you mention, on page 15, the whole situation with Rankine and her neighbor calling the cops on babysitter. When we read this scenario, Rankine purposely puts us in her shoes to make us feel uncomfortable, so that we are able to feel the same way she did when it happened.

  6. Jordyn,
    I agree that the second person point of view makes Rankine’s message even more powerful. By using “you” as the way to address the readers, she makes them bystanders to the events of racism and discrimination. I think bystander is going to be a critical role in this book- like on page 15 when the babysitter had the cops called on her, we as readers wish we were there to relieve the tension. When Serena Williams was getting discriminated against, we wish we could call out to people, “stop, what is wrong with you?” But we weren’t there, so we couldn’t. However, using the pronoun “you” makes us personally responsible for others finding racism to be acceptable- or for anyone who allows it. This speaks strongly to accountability. Rankine wants us to feel uncomfortable with racism, as we should!

  7. Hey Jordyn, you provided a lot of good examples from the text that allow the reader to be placed in Rankine’s shoes to show her “encounterments” with racism. Another example of this is when she tells the story of the African American women sitting next to the window seat on plane while a white mother and daughter realize they have seats next to her. She states, “The girl, looking over at you, tells her mother, these are our seats, but this is not what I expected. The mother’s response is barely audible—I see, she says. I’ll sit in the middle.” (Rankine 10) The mother notices that they have to sit next to a black woman and offers to sit in the middle so her daughter won’t have to. I think Rankine’s use of the second point of view works for this section because as you mentioned, it allows the reader to experience these events first hand and it is directed towards the reader to experience similar feelings to Rankine.

  8. Hi Jordyn,

    I really like how you show us the examples of microaggression that is occurring throughout the story and how you are showing how the author is trying to make the reader feel what she felt when going through these experiences. If this book was written in the first or third person the story would come across to the readers in a different connotation. Instead of Rankine making her readers feel what she went through she would only be telling them what she went through and the readers might not have understood how intense and how much a person could be affected by microaggression unless they have been through it theirselves. Rankine writes “Do you feel hurt because it’s the ‘all black people look the same’ moment, or because you are being confused with another after being so close to this other” (7). By Rankine saying this she is forcing the reader to imagine if they were in this situation how exactly would they feel.

  9. Hi Jordyn!
    I completely agree with your idea that the use of second person point of view is very powerful and works well in this book. Using the second person point of view, readers are being spoken to more directly, therefore making them part of the story. This causes readers to feel more connected to the story and have them care more deeply. My favorite book that I’ve ever read, Stolen by Lucy Christopher, is actually written in the second person point of view as well. These are the only two novels that I have seen use this and it is so powerful and attention-grabbing. I thought this quote was especially powerful: “When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among pillows” (5). This is so powerful because for me, and I’m sure many other readers, there have been times when I have been so exhausted and fed up where I would just lie still in my bed for awhile, just thinking. Rankine takes an experience that many people have had before and uses that in her novel to successfully get her point across. I can’t wait to read the rest of this book!

  10. Hi Jordyn,
    I feel like the second person view makes the reader feel more connected to the story. While using you it makes it feel as though the writer is directly talking about you and make you feel like you’re in the story. One specific line that makes me feel as though Rankine is talking directly about me is on page seven when she writes, “Do you feel hurt..?”. She uses the word you a lot in the second half of the paragraph and it makes is feel as though I am having direct interaction with the writer.

  11. Hey Jordyn, I really liked your analysis of Rankine’s reason for using second person point of view. To answer your question, I feel she uses this second person point of view to make the reader almost uncomfortable. She states, “Your neighbor tells you he is standing at his window watching a menacing black guy casing both your homes,” (15) which makes the reader feel as though it is actually happening to them. Using this point of view allows Rankine to make it personal, which thus makes the reader uncomfortable.

  12. Hi Jordyn,
    The second person point of view analysis was an excellent point made. Being that if this work was in first or third person view could possibly make that difference between feeling those microaggressions along with Rankine. In second person POV, we understand a sense and feel for the injustice that these people in these instances had to deal with. While the follow up sounds genuine, knowing that they had done something wrong by overreacting and placing that sense of racism upon Rankine and others, we understand that their is a clear difference between how each individual would be treated within the same occurrence. We can determine this when the situation is unfolding as “your” neighbor tells you, “He is standing at his window watching a menacing black guy casing both your homes.” Through this text, the neighbor had already determined that the person was “menacing” for simply minding his own business in front of their homes (15) . The neighbor had also assumed he already had met the “nice young man” that was babysitting and that the person in front of the house was simply not the same individual. While they seemed to be on a call but rather with a frustrated and more tense composure in the neighborhood, it doesn’t excuse the fact that they were harmless to others and if a white person was in his place, the situation would have occurred dramatically different.

  13. Hey Jordyn! I really enjoyed reading your post and thought that you brought out this idea so well. I think that the use of second person point of view makes the reader feel more connected in the stories, instead of just watching from the sideline. This use of making the reader feel as though they are in these conversations can make them have a feeling of discomfort while reading. I think that this is a really important strategy because these situations are awful and should make you feel uncomfortable, and the use of second person point of view really emphasizes this. One part that really struck me was when Rankine says “Do you feel hurt…”(7). This quotation just really puts these overall situations into perspective for people who have not gone through these expeirences.

  14. Hey Jordyn! I really liked how your blog talked about the second person point of view in the book. With the story starting out with second view point, she brings the reader right into the story and gives the reader an strange and a depressing view on being alone. The first paragraph of the book explains about being in a house alone and usually people like to be by themselves in the night. However, Rankine makes it seem that “you” as the reader are alone and depressed in your room with her specific wording of, “let[ting] yourself linger in the past stacked among your pillows” (5). With this first establishment, Rankine sets the rest of the story with the eerie second person point of view.

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