What Is a Persona?

A persona is an imagined person whom the writer pretends is actually doing the writing. This identity is distinct from that of the writer himself, but it is not a pseudonym.  Personas are also distinct from first person narrators, though there is some overlap.

Poems that use personas are called persona poems. They sometimes take the form of dramatic monologues, where the persona reveals something important about himself directly to an audience. For example, Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” is both a dramatic monologue and a persona poem. The duke narrates the poem while showing off a portrait of his deceased wife and explaining how he had her killed because she could not to make him the center of her universe. The duke’s persona is arrogant and narcissistic; he views people as little more than objects. The persona allows Browning to present his character directly, which makes the poem more effective.

How Do You Identify Persona in Writing?

Persona poems are first-person narratives told by personalities distinct from the poet himself. Sometimes these personas are historical figures; other times, they are characters in literature. Using a known persona allows the writer to rely on his reader’s familiarity with the persona’s personality and prior history.

A novel that uses a persona, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale, may take the form of a frame tale. The framing device puts the persona’s narrative “inside” the outer structure of the novel. For instance, the persona may write a series of letters that are later found by a third party. This device allows the novelist to distance herself even further from the persona she created.

Examples of Persona

Persona Example 1. Vladimir Nabokov has one persona, Charles Kinbote, write part of his novel Pale Fire, while another persona, John Shade, writes the poem that is the subject of Kinbote’s narrative.

Persona Example 2. The persona who narrates T.S. Eliot’s “Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” is Prufrock himself.

Persona Example 3. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is a dramatic monologue written from the point of view of the Greek king.

Persona Example 4. Elizabeth Bishop’s “Crusoe in England” is another dramatic monologue written from the persona of the fictional character.

Persona Example 5. James Tate’s poem “The Motorcyclists” uses a female persona to reveal the complexities of power and gender.

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