Is there a name for books in which the protagonist is only observed through a secondary character's narrative? Often they are in first-person (and the "I" is not the protagonist but another character who knows them well), and often the book is titled after the protagonist.

For example, the protagonist in The Great Gatsby is the titular character Jay Gatsby, but it is told entirely from Nick Carraway's point of view. In Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus the "I" character is Dr. Zeitblom and we only see Adrian through his eyes.

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    Sherlock Holmes would be another very famous example.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 20 at 9:51

1 Answer 1


A type of narration in which the narrator is a character other than the main character is known has homodiegetic narration. This type of narration can be contrasted with autodiegetic narration, in which the narrator is the protagonist, and heterodiegetic narration, in which the narrator is entirely outside the fictional world in the story.

The difference between a heterodiegetic narrator on the one hand and autodiegetic and homodiegetic narrators on the other, tends to have an impact on their reliability:

  • A reliable narrator is one whose statements can be considered true (within the story's fictional world). Stories with a reliable narrator tend to have an heterodiegetic narrator.
  • An unreliable narrator is one whose statements, as the name suggests, cannot be entirely relied upon for a variety of reasons, such as limited knowledge or involvement in the story. Stories with an unreliable narrator tend to have an autodiegetic or a homodiegetic narrator (or even multiple characters that alternate as narrators, such as George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire).

Main source: Narratology 2.3: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative (PDF) by Manfred Jahn (English Department, University of Cologne).

  • "digetic" as in "the qualities of a digest"?
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jun 20 at 17:33
  • 2
    @RonJohn Diegetic comes from Greek διηγητικός (diēgētikós), whereas digest comes from Latin dīgestus, past participle of dīgerō (“carry apart”).
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jun 20 at 17:59

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