Early literature such as Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico or Xenophon's Anabasis, both ostensibly non-fictional accounts of wars led by their authors, used illeism to impart an air of objective impartiality to the account, which included justifications of the author's actions. In this way personal bias is presented, albeit dishonestly, as objectivity.
Illeism can also be used in literature to provide a twist, wherein the identity of the narrator as also being the main character is hidden from the reader until later in the story (e.g. one Arsène Lupin story where the narrator is Arsène Lupin but hides his own identity); the use of third person implies external observation. A similar use is when the author injects himself into his own third person narrative story as a character, such as Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation, Douglas Coupland in JPod, and commonly done by Clive Cussler in his novels, beginning with Dragon.
It can also be used as a device to illustrate the feeling of "being outside one's body and watching things happen", a psychological disconnect resulting from dissonance either from trauma such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, or from past outbursts that cannot be reconciled with the individual's own self-image.
The same kind of objective distance can be employed for other purposes. Theologian Richard B. Hays writes an essay where he challenges earlier findings that he disagrees with: "These were the findings of one Richard B. Hays, and the newer essay treats the earlier work and earlier author at arms' length."
Illeism is also a device used to show idiocy, as with the character Mongo in Blazing Saddles, e.g. "Mongo like candy" and "Mongo only pawn in game of life" (Note also the lack of articles and verb inflection in both sentences); though it may also show innocent simplicity, as it does with Harry Potter's Dobby the Elf ("Dobby has come to protect, even if he does have to shut his ears in the oven door").
In everyday speech
Illeism in everyday speech can have a variety of intentions depending on context. One common usage is to impart humility, a common practice in feudal societies and other societies where honorifics are important to observe ("Your servant awaits your orders"), as well as in master–slave relationships ("This slave needs to be punished"). Recruits in the military, mostly United States Marine Corps recruits, are also often made to refer to themselves in the third person, such as "the recruit", in order to reduce the sense of individuality and enforce the idea of the group being more important than the self. The use of illeism in this context imparts a sense of lack of self, implying a diminished importance of the speaker in relation to the addressee or to a larger whole.
Conversely, in different contexts, illeism can be used to reinforce self-promotion, as used to sometimes comic effect by Bob Dole throughout his political career. This was particularly made notable during the United States presidential election of 1996 and lampooned broadly in popular media for years afterwards.
Deepanjana Pal of Firstpost noted that speaking in the third person "is a classic technique used by generations of Bollywood scriptwriters to establish a character’s aristocracy, power and gravitas". Conversely, third person self-referral can be associated with self-irony and not taking oneself too seriously (since the excessive use of pronoun "I" is often seen as a sign of narcissism and ego centrism), as well as with eccentricity in general.
Young children in Japan commonly refer to themselves by their own name (a habit probably picked up from their elders who would normally refer to them by name ). This is due to the normal Japanese way of speaking, in which referring to another in the third person is considered more polite than using the Japanese words for "you", like Omae. More explanation given in Japanese pronouns, though as the children grow older they normally switch over to using first person references. Japanese idols also may refer to themselves in the third person so to give off the feeling of childlike cuteness.
Major Bagstock, the apoplectic retired Indian army officer from Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son (1848) refers to himself solely as Joseph, Old Joe, Joey B, Bagstock, Josh, J.B., Anthony Bagstock, and other variants of his own name.
Charlie from the acclaimed novel Flowers for Algernon speaks in third person in the "being outside one's body and watching things happen" manner in his flashbacks to his abusive and troubled childhood suffering from phenylketonuria.
The healer and wisewoman Magda Digby from the Owen Archer series by Candace Robb.
Mantis from Marvel Comics almost always refers to herself as "Mantis", "she", and "this one"; this has to do with her upbringing at the Temple of the Priests of Pama, an alien pacifistic sect heavily inspired by real-life Eastern religious movements.
The Rock, during his pro wrestling career, particularly with the catchphrases "The Rock says" and "Do you smell what The Rock is cookin'?" and uses third person pronouns to refer to himself.
Jimmy from "The Jimmy" episode of Seinfeld, whose usage leads to confusion about his identity. The usage rubs off on George Costanza, who exclaims "you're killing Independent George!" or "George is getting upset!"
In the iCarly episode "iRocked the Vote", Carly, Sam and Freddie make a music video for singer Wade Collins, who is bitter about how the gang's web show caused him to lose the competition singing show America Sings (based on American Idol). Wade exhibits arrogant and egotistical behavior frequently throughout the episode, including announcing "Wade Collins is leaving!" on his way out of Carly's apartment in one scene.
^Richard B. Hays, “‘Here We Have No Lasting City’: New Covenantalism in Hebrews” in Richard J. Bauckham et al. (eds.), The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 151–173, esp. 151–152, 167.
^"When the president is ready to deploy, Bob Dole is ready to lead the fight on the Senate Floor". Bob Dole speaking about the Strategic Defense Initiative at the NCPAC convention, 1987.
^"Doug Robinson: Karl Malone is one of a kind". Deseret News. 2010-08-10. Retrieved 2012-12-06. Maybe Malone didn't even know he was the one who was saying those things, because he tended to talk about himself as another being, in third person. Or maybe he was just schizophrenic, whatever.
^Shefter, Adam (2011-02-27). "Sources: Cam Newton thrown for loop". ESPN.com. His comment drew such a reaction because some say his swagger teeters on the edge of pure arrogance. In roughly 12 minutes at the podium, he referred to himself in the third person three times. When asked if some mistake his confidence for cockiness, he said: "I'm not sure, but I'm a confident person, and it was instilled in myself at an early age to believe in myself".
^Wiltz, Teresa (2006-11-02). "Love Him, Or Leave Him?". Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-12-06. They all purport to be in love with Flav, a man who refers to himself in the third person and whose idea of fine dining is a dash to Red Lobster.
^Rod Elledge (2007). Use of the Third Person for Self-Reference by Jesus and Yahweh: A Study of Illeism in the Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Texts and Its Implications for Christology. Bloomsbury T&T Clark. ISBN9780567671448.
^RavenWolf, Silver (2001). Witches' Key to Terror. Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 25. ISBN9780738700496. The three girls milled around the kitchen, dodging Ramona, looking for midnight snacks. Bethany wished for the thousandth time that the housekeeper would not talk about herself in the third person. Too weird.
^Stevens, Christopher (2013-06-09). "We're lucky David Suchet loves Poirot more than Agatha ever did". Daily Mail. Poirot was as riotously egotistical as ever. Suchet’s genius is that he can deliver everything Christie found so exasperating, without becoming a caricature — he minces, he trots, he fusses, he talks endlessly of himself in the third person.
^Simpson, Craig (June 17, 2009). "Summer of '84—Waxing on Nostalgia: The Karate Kid". Slant Magazine. Miyagi is a trickier case: at first it looks like Avildsen overplays the man's exoticness (cue that pan flute!), enforced by Kamen's questionable emphasis on the character's me-no-likey phonetic third-person English. ("Miyagi this, Miyagi that...")
^"Quotes for Magua (Character)". IMDB. 2014-08-01. When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart. Before he dies, Magua will put his children under the knife, so the Grey Hair will know his seed is wiped out forever.
^"Cars 2 – An interview with director John Lasseter". Sound and Picture Online. 2011-06-20. He’s not just any formula car. He’s the star from Italy, Francesco Bernoulli. He is so full of himself—he’s an open-wheel car and in the car world, an open-wheel car is like those guys who barely button their shirts. He talks about himself in the third person. Voicing Francesco Bernoulli is John Turturro and he hit it out of the park. It’s one of the most entertaining characters we’ve ever created.
^Hanley, Andy (2012-03-15). "Manga Review: Highschool of the Dead Vol. 5". UK Anime Network. Retrieved 2012-12-06. At the forefront of this is a young traffic cop with a penchant for referring to herself in the third-person named Asami Nakaoka, who tries to take control of the situation in the absence of her partner who has gone back to base to seek help.
^Moody, Allen (2013-11-05). "Haganai – Review". THEM Anime Reviews. Like Tim, I didn't like most of the other characters, especially Rika, whose tics (speaking of herself in the third person, and imagining sexual situations in the damnedest places- for example, in mecha manga) kept making me shout "Make it STOP!!!!"