Unreliable narrator

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An unreliable narrator works under the constraints of limited knowledge to convey information that may seem justifiably suspect to the reader.

Contents

Definition

The opposite of a reliable narrator, an unreliable narrator typically displays characteristics or tendencies that indicate a lack of credibility or understanding of the story. Whether due to age, mental disability or personal involvement, an unreliable narrator provides the reader with either incomplete or inaccurate information as a result of these conditions. Lack of alignment with the "tastes, judgements, [and] moral sense" (Prince 103) of the implied author is a determining factor in a narrator's unreliability. Most notably done by William Faulkner in his novels, the use of a main character with a mental disability or a skewed perspective is indicative of unreliability as well as the under-developed perspective of a child narrator.

Examples

"It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture--a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees--very gradually--I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever."

-Edgar Allan Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Critical Debates

{is the term contested, challenged, defined differently, etc.?}

Related Terms

reliable narrator

References

Prince, Gerald. Dictionary of Narratology

Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. Narrative Fiction

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