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I was reading a short-story titled "A Face in the Dark" by Ruskin Bond. There's this passage in it:

"It had no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. It was just a round smooth head — with a school cap on top of it! And that's where the story should end. But for Mr. Oliver, it did not end there."

The sentence in bold suggests that the omniscient narrator of the story is somehow aware that he is telling a fictional story; this phenomenon can also be seen in stories wherein the narrator directly addresses the reader as "Dear reader" etc. (this is more common in stories for children).

So what is this literary device called?

"Breaking the fourth wall" seemed to be the closest answer — but I guess that's relevant only in plays where characters become aware of their fictional nature.

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    Isn't this quite common in omniscient-narrator stories? Sometimes they even address the reader directly: "and so, dear reader", that kind of thing. Good question though: I don't know the name of this device exactly. – Rand al'Thor Mar 4 '20 at 9:39
  • @Randal'Thor I think, that is more common in stories for children.... but those are stories nonetheless. So, good point. I have edited my question accordingly. (Please see if the title of my question's title makes sense). – Arjun Mar 4 '20 at 11:14
  • @Randal'Thor unrelated: don't upvotes on questions give +5 rep... I seemed to have got +10 for it.. I am just curious. Has there been a change in rep system? I am coming to SE after a long time.. – Arjun Mar 4 '20 at 11:19
  • Yes, they changed it in November 2019, so now both question and answer upvotes are worth 10 rep. – Rand al'Thor Mar 4 '20 at 11:23
  • Can you give us some more information about the story? Without access to the text it is impossible to know if the narrator is also a character in the story, or merely the voice which relates events. if the narrator is not also a character in the story tey are telling then the sentence you query may just be characterised as part of the story telling style. A story-teller is by default telling the story to someone, so this aside would not be an additional breaking of a conceit. – Spagirl Mar 4 '20 at 12:09
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"A Face in the Dark" is a very short story, around one page long. It is told from a third-person point of view by an omniscient narrator. The following sentences, which are not spoken by a character in the story, are the narrator's only intrusion into the story:

And that's where the story should end. But for Mr Oliver it did not end here.

The narrator's intrusion may remind one of metafiction, however that term

is normally used for works that involve a significant degree of self-consciousness about themselves as fiction, in ways that go beyond occasional apologetic addresses to the reader. (Baldick, page 151)

The narrator may intrude into the narration by drawing attention to the story itself or even by addressing the reader without necessarily turning the narrative into metafiction. This is a device that can also be found in many other works. Below are a few examples.

"An Unfinished Story" by O. Henry:

"Do you belong with that bunch?" the policeman asked.

"Who are they?" was my answer.

"Why," said he, "they are—"

But this irrelevant stuff is taking up space that the story should occupy.

Chapter 1 of Niholas Nickleby (1838–1839) by Charles Dickens:

From what we have said of this young gentleman, and the natural admiration the reader will immediately conceive of his character, it may perhaps be inferred that he is to be the hero of the work which we shall presently begin. To set this point at rest for once and for ever, we hasten to undeceive them, and stride to its commencement.

Chapter XVI of My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) by Frederick Douglas:

You have, dear reader, seen me humbled, degraded, broken down, enslaved, and brutalized, and you understand how it was done; now let us see the converse of all this, and how it was brought about; and this will take us through the year 1834.

Book 4, Chapter 15 of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880) by Lew Walace:

On this faith, dear reader, the Pharisees or Separatists—the latter being rather a political term—in the cloisters and around the altars of the Temple, built an edifice of hope far overtopping the dream of the Macedonian.

Chapter XXIX of The Wheels of Chance (1913) by H. G. Wells:

"Dear me!" said Mr. Hoopdriver, veering round to the new wind. "How did you find out that?" (the man was born in a London suburb, dear Reader.)


References:

  • Baldick, Chris: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Second edition. Oxford University Press, 2001.

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