The Unreliable Narrator From John Hewitt’s Writing Tips
An unreliable narrator is a first-person narrator that for some reason has a compromised point-of-view. • In all stories with a first-person narrator, the narrator serves as a filter for the events. • What the narrator does not know or observe cannot be explained to the reader. • Usually, however, the reader trusts that the narrator is knowledgeable and truthful enough to give them an accurate representation of the story. • In the case of an unreliable narrator (sometimes called a fallible narrator), the reader has reason not to trust what the narrator is saying.
The narrator may be unreliable for many reasons. Some of the typical scenarios are: • The narrator may be of a dramatically different age than the people in the story, such as a child attempting to explain adult actions • The narrator may have prejudices about race, class or gender • The narrator may have low intelligence • The narrator may suffer from hallucinations or dementia • The narrator may have a personality flaw such as pathological lying or narcissism • The narrator may be trying to make a point that is contrary to the actions of the story or be attempting to libel one of the characters due to a grudge
Whatever flaw the narrator has, at some point the reader will realize that the narrator’s interpretation of the events cannot be fully trusted and will begin to form their own opinions about the events and motivations within the story. • Some readers will be put off by this approach. • Stories depend on the willing suspension of disbelief, and readers can be pulled out of the story when they realize the narrator cannot be trusted. • This is why telling a tale from this viewpoint can be problematic. There is a fine line between distrusting the narrator and distrusting the writer.
As you are reading the short stories and the 2 novels, keep track of how unreliable the narrators are. Use this information to keep track and take notes on the narrators. You can and should use these notes when you write for the assessments.
We will read a short story together on Tuesday, October 8 • “The Cask of Amontillado” • You will choose an E.A. Poe story that you haven’t read from this list: • “The Black Cat” • “The Mask of the Red Death” • “The Tell-Tale Heart” • “The Pit and the Pendulum • All of these stories can be found at poestories.com • Our two novels for this MT are: • The Turn of the Screw (TotS) – online at http://web.archive.org/web/20080915175905/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/JamTurn.html. There is an excellent read along audio version of this as well at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lunrRoxYmN4. I have also create a reading assistant documents of this text for you on google docs: https://docs.google.com/a/students.halldale.org/document/d/1mBmezHj9sc8HuwZR7orxswgNGDA5L8dzl_XNt-YCrPw/edit#heading=h.icvebmulgun2 • Catcher in the Rye – books given out in class
The measurement topic reads: 4.0 Investigate the purposes and reasons why an author would use an unreliable narrator. Investigate the paradox of an unreliable narrator personifying a universal theme or the novel’s theme. Choose more sophisticated texts to understand when a narrator is unreliable. Taxonomy: Knowledge Utilization What strategies does the author use to reveal or conceal the reliability of the narrator? 3.0 Understands when a narrator is unreliable and how it affects the point of view. Taxonomy: Analysis Give examples of untruths and exaggerations the narrator uses and how it they affect the readers perception of the narrator. Identify the logic behind the author's use of an unreliable narrator to affect the point of view. 2.0 Knows that a narrator may be unreliable. Taxonomy: Comprehension Can define and identify unreliable narrators.