In Isaac Asimov’s famed short story, Reason, the narrator plays a significant role. As with most short stories, the narrator is not just telling the story, but rather, is shaping the action and influencing the way in which the reader understands the plot, the characters, and the overall reality in which the story operates.
In this work, the author creates the narrator as a sort of detached, third-person existence. He is not a character in the story, but rather, the narrator operates as a kind of informed observer of the action. One feels as if the narrator is there, of course, and one feels as if the narrator has a close, warm relationship with the characters that he is describing. Still, the narrator is not an active part of the story, as Asimov did not choose to employ the first person in this particular work.
The detached way in which the narrator discusses the characters can be seen at multiple points during the course of this story. At one point, he describes the action by writing, “His hand went up and the metal visi-lid snapped back into place. Powell returned to the table and polished an apple upon his sleeve before biting into it” (Asimov). There, one can see a good example of the role that the narrator plays in this story from a technical point of view. He is, for all intent and purposes, the person charged with describing the action. Almost like a journalist reporting on a story, this particular narrator remains simple and straight-forward in his descriptions of the characters and their actions.
In one sense, the reader can understand the narrator not just as a story-teller, but instead, as a distributor of many different personalities. This particular story is one with many moving parts. There are many different characters to keep up with. There are robots and their issues. The story involves space and mentions of far-out places. These are tough things for the reader to follow without help from some source. With this, the narrator comes into play. His primary role, at least in this story, is to provide a sort of organization to it all. Perhaps this is why Asimov made the choice not to make the narrator an active part of the story. If he had, it would have simply added one more moving part to a story that did not need one. Likewise, it might have made things more difficult on the reader, who truly did need a neutral observer to guide him through this particular story.
Likewise, the author uses the narrator to be perfectly descriptive of the characters. This is important because of the medium that this story is written in. With short stories, there is rarely enough time to truly develop characters. In a longer novel, the reader may be able to gain insights about the ins and outs of various characters just by watching the interactions between the narrator and those characters. In those examples, the other character is revealed rather than dictated. The constraints of the short story form, which are significant, requires a more direct approach. With this in mind, part of what the narrator is doing in this story is painting a real and direct picture of who the characters are and what they are about. This is an important function that ultimately allows the reader to enjoy a better understanding of the interactions between the many characters.
Here, the narrator is a part of the story, but not in the direct sense. He’s a third-party operator, designed to keep things straight and keep the action moving. At some points, he delivers the dry descriptions that are needed in a story like this, and his role is ultimately both affective and effective.