The First Person Plural - Why We Use It: Background information when reading A Reunion of Ghosts

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Reunion of Ghosts

by Judith C. Mitchell

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith C. Mitchell X
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith C. Mitchell
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 400 pages

    Jan 2016, 400 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
Buy This Book

About this Book

The First Person Plural - Why We Use It

This article relates to A Reunion of Ghosts

Print Review

Greek ChorusAs noted in my review, one unique aspect of Judith Claire Mitchell's A Reunion of Ghosts is her use of the first person plural literary voice. According to most sources, this point of view dates back to ancient Greece and its famous Greek choruses, which spoke in unison as a group. With such a rich history, you might think more authors would be writing using this perspective. However, Laura Miller in her 2004 article in The New York Times, notes that it is difficult to pull off and has many drawbacks: "You could say that the history of Western literature so far has been a journey from the first-person plural to the first-person singular, the signature voice of our time." Still, this isn't stopping writers from employing it, and recently they've been on the rise.

The Virgin SuicidesOf the many articles I read about first person plural, many called it a gimmick; only used by authors so publishers will see their books as something exceptional, not only worthy of publication, but also high-profile promotion. One said that this perspective creates an "emotional distance" from the readers, which prevents empathizing with the characters. But several people pointed out that this lack of empathy might be a deliberate choice with this point of view; that these choruses aren't the focus of the novels themselves, but rather observers to something outside their collective which is the actual focus. For example, in The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, the men speak in the first person plural recalling their neighbors, the Lisbon sisters.

When I asked a literary friend about this, she had some interesting insights. She pointed out that, like most people, she's always searched for something to belong to, a "we" that she could be part of and identify with. On the other hand, she also said that we "live in a society that's obsessed with the lone individual, while at the same time setting very narrow boundaries for difference." This made me think about the advent of social networking and how the Internet is bringing so many people together. We join and like pages and groups, in order to become part of "something." However, without our individuality, we have nothing to offer that would motivate others to become our friends and "like" our posts. When we apply this to the first person plural literary voice, we can see how it can both personalize and sterilize the narration.

The Wives of Los AlamosTaraShea Nesbit, author of The Wives of Los Alamos, (written in this POV) touches on just this point in her recent Guardian Books blog post, "We Can Do a Lot: The Rise of First-Person Plural Narration." She asks, "How does one create one's self in relation to the groups we are a part of? Where do our loyalties lie? What gets lost, and what is gained by group membership? This sense of social responsibility and selfhood, as well as uncertainty about how to act on such feelings, describes, in part, our contemporary moment." These, of course, are the same questions that we ask of the group narrator in this novel.

Even so, what Mitchell's three sisters give us in A Reunion of Ghosts is somewhat different. As we read the stories of these three very unique individuals, we feel that the collective voice is actually a mechanic preventing these women from sounding, as Miller puts it, "confessional, idiosyncratic, often unreliable." Only together, can they give accurate testimony to the other's stories; their truth lies in their unity and harmony. Furthermore, they believe that their deaths benefit society as a whole, because they see it as righting four generations of wrongs. As selfish as suicide may seem to outsiders, in this case, their doing it together is the only way to give meaning to each of the separate three. Because of all this, I believe Mitchell rightfully chose this point of view, and I'm certain her story wouldn't have been half as effective if she had written it in first person singular.

Greek chorus picture, courtesy of webexhibits

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Davida Chazan

This "beyond the book article" relates to A Reunion of Ghosts. It originally ran in April 2015 and has been updated for the January 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Where Coyotes Howl
    Where Coyotes Howl
    by Sandra Dallas
    Where Coyotes Howl may appear to be a classically conventional historical novel — a wide-eyed ...
  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...
  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.