The Sketchy Narrator Unreliability and Effacement in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House
#1: Don’t be a sucker. • First Step: Ask who’s talking to you. • 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person? • Male/Female? • Child/Adult? • Second Step: Why is he/she telling the story? • Third Step: Is this voice reliable? • Fourth Step: Evaluate.
How knowledgeable? • Omniscience: usually 3rd-person • Limited Omniscience: usually 3rd-person • Can a 1st-person narrator be omniscient? • And then there’s (rarely) 2nd-person: “Eventually you ascend the stairs to the street. You think of Plato's pilgrims climbing out of the cave, from the shadow world of appearances toward things as they really are, and you wonder if it is possible to change in this life. Being with a philosopher makes you think.” ― Jay McInerneyfrom Bright Lights, Big City
Reliable or Unreliable? • Huck Finn—1st • Holden Caulfield—1st • Narrator in Of Mice and Men? • Elie in Night? • “The Tell-Tale Heart”? • Future Reading: • Nick in The Great Gatsby? (reliable) • Nellie in Wuthering Heights? (unreliable)
Think back… • Recall books you’ve read in the past. • Can you remember the point of view? • Was the narrative voice reliable or unreliable?
Effaced and Non-Effaced • How close is the voice to your ear? • How much of a personality is there to the voice? • “The Masque of the Red Death”? • “The Wind Did It”?
Effaced • Usually a 3rd-person narrative in which the “voice” is so detached, so bland, so reportorial that it feels like there’s not a real person there. • Can be a 1st-person or a 3rd-person perspective. • Effaced 1st-person in The English Patient
Non-Effaced • The narrative voice is or feels like a character. • A 3rd-person narrator who comments on characters. Typically seen in comedy novels, as the humorous telling of the story actually is commentary.
The Haunting of Hill House • Weird hybrid: 3rd-person omniscient that withholds information • Weird hybrid again: 3rd-person omniscient that becomes effaced and indistinguishable from a 1st-person narration
Things to look for: • What our narrator reveals and conceals • Eleanor as Other • Eleanor lacks agency • Hill House as metaphor • Terms to know: • Gothic: combines horror & romance • The Grotesque: combines empathy & disgust • Example: “The Fall of the House of Usher” • Mirroring or twinning