David Leavitt's work, Territory the author writes in the third person to enhance the feelings and perceptions of the narrator; as well as to influence how the reader identifies with each of the characters and views the events throughout the narrative.
The assumed narrator in the work is a person by the name of Neil, an openly homosexual man. It appears that Neil wrote the story, but referred to himself in the third person. Neil tells the story with a unique perspective that the reader increasingly appreciates throughout the work. His is the point of view of a man who has had a hard time fitting into any social category; he is a person who has had to define himself under direct attack from the society in which he was raised. Being homosexual, Neil feels that he has a constant need to justify himself to those around him, and in general.
"Neil thinks, I have returned nothing, I have simply returned. He wonders if [his mother] would have given birth to him had she known what he would grow up to be" (Leavitt 691). This is a profound example of Neil's feeling of personal inadequacy. He feels that he is a failure, someone who should or could have been different. Here we notice that the author has made use of the third person to convey directly what Neil thinks and how he feels. The reader knows that Neil feels worthless and unhappy because s/he identifies with Neil. Had the narrative been written in a different point of view, the reader would not be able to identify directly with Neil, and may not be able to understand or even notice some of the problems and issues he deals with. Since Neil's feelings are directly stated, it is easy for the reader to feel for Neil and to understand him; perhaps even empathize with him.
Neil is incredibly insecure about himself and especially about his sexuality. "For years he had believed his sexuality to be detachable from the essential him, but now he realized that it was part of him" (Leavitt 690). Neil feels like an "embarrassed adolescent" (Leavitt 690) when he thinks back on or is confronted with anything that refers to his sexuality. These two quotes contain valuable insights that the reader gains from the author's use of the third person. Neil feels that he has to incorporate all the different aspects of his life into one essence, and bringing Wayne to his mother's home means attempting to join those two separate areas. This interpretation of the text is supported by Neil's reluctance to bring Wayne, his lover, home to meet his mother after planning to do so. "Neil wants to go to a motel, but Wayne insists on being pragmatic....Neil reminds himself that he loves this man, that there is a reason for him to bring this man home" (Leavitt 692). This excerpt shows clearly Neil's insecurity and hints at a fear of confrontation; this fear is made clear when Neil thinks about Wayne's arrival. "[Neil] feels renewed terror at the thought that Wayne will be here soon: Will they make love? He has never had sex in his parent's house. How can he be expected to be a good lover here, in this place of his childhood, of his earliest shame, in this household of mothers and dogs?" (Leavitt 690).
There are many important clues that convey Neil's feelings and perceptions in this except. Neil is terrified to bring his lover home, and as stated earlier in this analysis, would prefer to go to a motel. He fears bringing Wayne home not because of Wayne, but because of himself. Neil does not want to deal with the confrontation between himself, his mother and Wayne. There is no reason his mother would not be open to Wayne's visit since she knows about his visit already and is expecting them, but Neil is so worried about the actual meeting that he wants to avoid it completely. Moreover, once the event has passed, the reader sees that Neil's worries are ill founded. "So the dread moment passes and he might as well not even been there (Leavitt 692). This is not to suggest that Neil did not need to be there, or was unwelcome, merely that the event passed without problem. As it turned out, Neil did not need to mediate for his mother and Wayne, as he feared he would have to do.
The author's use of third person gives the reader a wealth of knowledge about Neil, and about the manner in which he perceives the situations in his life. Neil is non-confrontational and self-conscious, preferring to keep his mouth shut and be slightly uncomfortable or anxious rather than to rock the boat. This is made clear when he, his mother and Wayne are eating dinner. "He contemplates taking Wayne's hand, then checks himself. He has never done anything in [his mother's] presence to indicate that the sexuality he confessed to five years ago was a reality and not an invention. Then Wayne, his savior, with a single sweeping gesture reaches for his hand, and clasps it.... Neil's throat contracts; his heart begins to beat violently. He notices his mother's eyes flicker, glance downward" (Leavitt 693). Neil wants to take Wayne's hand, but he would rather avoid any possible negative interaction that might result. He would rather have any active sexuality be hidden, just not-talked-about; that way he does not have to actively deal with any repercussions that might result. The author's use of third person allows the reader to be aware of exactly how Neil feels about what is going on around him. The reader can witness Neil's hypersensitivity to other's actions. Neil is overly concerned about what others think of him, he feels that someone is always evaluating him or thinking about him. This is another insight that the reader gains from the author's use of the third person; s/he is able to understand Neil's actions because of his unspoken thoughts.
Had the narrative been written from the vantage point of another character in the story, it would lack many of the details of which the reader is made aware. The narrative would have been very different if it were written with Wayne as the narrator. The reader would have been given more insight as to why Wayne was visiting and more detail as to what was going on from minute to minute. Neil was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to make note of small details. Wayne also seems like a much more confident and self-assured person. Wayne would have commented on Neil's mother's demeanor, her dress, the house, and Neil's nervous behavior. However, the reader would not know why Neil seemed so aloof and agitated.
Neil's mother would also have been an interesting choice for narrator. The details of Neil's childhood may have given the reader a clearer picture of his personality and disposition; however, that viewpoint would not have given insight as to how Neil feels and why he acts the way he does.
The author's use of this point of view allows the reader to identify with Neil without feeling biased. Had the narrative been written using first person, the reader would feel that some of the events were Neil's take on them; although this is true, the matter-of-fact tone the author uses allows the reader to take much of the information as fact, not perspective.