Margaret Atwood’s “Instructions for the Third Eye” is exactly what the title claims: a set of instructions to see the world through the lens of a third eye—a different perspective. Atwood begins by defining the eye as an “organ of vision,” pointing out that “the third eye is no exception.” She claims that most people believe only what they know to be true and refuse to consider any other possibilities. They are not willing to open their minds to a different perspective and “resent the third eye” because it would show them things they do not want to see. Atwood challenges readers to broaden their perception of reality.
One element that makes the story successful is that it is written in a fragmented second-person point of view that alternates between directions for the reader and personal remarks from the narrator: “You find too that what you see depends partly on what you want to look at and partly on how. As I said, the third eye is only an eye.” The second-person point of view (POV) immediately pulls the reader into the action by invitation and command: “If you want to use the third eye you must close the other two.” In other words, the third eye holds power that can only be harnessed by diving into the darkness, behind closed eyelids, and venturing into the unfamiliar world of a different perspective. Atwood conceals the fact that she attempts to manipulate the reader’s “thoughts” through the second-person POV by engaging in a one-sided conversation, in which she asks and answers questions the reader would most likely ask: “What’s the difference between vision and a vision?” Atwood’s conversational approach through the second-person POV avoids the authoritative tone by acknowledging that even the author’s own explanations and directions are not perfect. This allows the reader to apply his or her own interpretation to the instructions, since “language is not always dependable either.”
In the final paragraph, through the second-person POV, Atwood successfully challenges the reader to use the third eye: “But someone has to see these things.” That someone implies the reader. The second-person POV can sometimes seem demanding and accusative; however, this sentence is a nonthreatening call for action that works well because someone could be anyone, and that responsibility is not pinned directly on the reader. Atwood’s closing sentence, which uses the pronoun you and repeats twice for emphasis, incorporates a deeper level of significance by imposing the second-person POV into what may seem like a simplistic, matter-of-fact explanation: “You see. You see.” This repetition echoes Atwood’s first question at the beginning of the narrative: “What’s the difference between vision and a vision?” The mirrored phrasing emphasizes the idea that the same thing can be seen differently through the lens of alternate perspectives; however, a set of instructions can only go so far. It is up to the reader to take the next step—one that can only be experienced. The reader is left with the choice to either remain in the dark or open a window into the mind of another.