Persona, as a linguistic term, can have a couple of meanings and definitions. In the broadest sense, persona symbolizes someone’s personal image they create for other people, for example, when a politician or an actor projects a certain image of himself in public.
When talking about literary works, a persona is a storyteller, a narrator whom the author chooses to tell the story. It’s not an author himself. One of the heroes of the story can serve as a persona, or it can be a nameless figure who is observing and describing events. Still, because of the actions of the persona and the author, those two are oftentimes inseparable from each other and can be seen as the same person.
The term derives from the Latin “persona”, which was used to describe an actor’s mask. It was first mentioned in English approximately in 1730-1740. Because the term designated an actual mask the actors used to wear during the plays, it can logically describe the role of this linguistic tool in the works of literature.
Because the sense of a persona as a literary device can be quite confusing, people quite often identify it as either an alter ego or a pen or stage name. The distinction between these terms is obvious. While a persona embodies the voice of the narrator, an alter ego is the extra individuality existing in a certain character’s body. As for stage and pen names, they are used when the actor wants to perform under a different name or the author wants his works to be published under a pseudonym.
Despite the fact that a persona can be a rather confusing literary tool, it is very effective in a couple of ways. For the author, to use a persona as the storyteller means to become more emerged into the situation and the stories of the characters. When the writer puts aside his own personality, views, and beliefs and delivers the story from the point of view of a separate persona, the literary work is able to convey a more convincing message. A persona allows the author to be more objective. It helps the writer separate his own experiences and points of view from the characters, thus making the story more truthful and impartial.
Another reason why authors oftentimes use a persona in their works is that it allows them to explore the story and the atmosphere without putting them through the prism of their own thoughts. This means that the author doesn’t add his own personality to the narrative and is able to perceive the situation the way his characters would.
People use the tool of a persona in everyday life as well. Not only on stage or in politics but also in regular interactions. For instance, people oftentimes behave differently in front of their friends and their parents. Therefore, they adopt different personae depending on the situation they’re in.
Another example of using a persona in real life is how politicians present themselves to the public in the way people want to see them. They adopt a caring, honest persona in front of the cameras in order to create a positive image of themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that their public persona is completely different from their real personalities. Still, this technique of creating a certain image for the public is categorized as a persona.
Literary works have many illustrations of a persona. For example, in the work “A Modest Proposal”, J. Swift uses a persona to narrate the story. The storyteller is an intellectual who illustrates the plot using his own voice, not the perspective of the author.
Edgar Allan Poe also implemented a persona tool in one of his poems called “Annabel Lee”. In the text, he introduces a certain “me” who is not the author himself but a narrator, a separate character serving the role of a persona.
T. S. Eliot created a persona whom he presented as the narrator of one of his poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Here, the persona has an inner monologue, feeling isolated, desperate, and miserable. By separating himself from the narrator, Eliot managed to create a more vivid picture of the persona’s feelings and experiences.
Some critics tend to think that the literary tool of a persona is outdated and not relevant in the modern literature. Still, there are those who consider a persona to be a very effective tool (when implied masterfully). This literary device requires a certain level of artistry from the author, plus the ability to be compassionate and possess a high level of empathy.
A persona can be implemented both in literary pieces and in real life. An individual is able to adopt a certain persona in daily life when there’s a need to create a certain image of oneself. In literature, a persona implies introducing the narrator to the plot. It’s the voice that’s telling the story, but it’s not the author himself.
Though sometimes considered to be outdated, personae can be found in many literary works. This literary tool allows the author to separate himself from the story and look at the situation objectively. It helps the writers feel and understand the characters better, thus depicting them more vividly and adding a certain level of artistry to the literary piece.