The Unreliable Narrator

 

In my WWII historical fiction novel, Why Aren’t You Sweet Like Me?, I present two flawed and unreliable narrators. To understand any character narration, first, we must ask, “do I have reason to distrust?” In a first-person situation, the answer is, absolutely. So, what makes a narrator unreliable? Well, the fact that they are the telling the story, for one…

In Wuthering Heights, there are two unreliable narrators: a wealthy landowner, Mr. Lockwood and the maid, Nelly Dean. It’s a very peculiar set-up because it has a double framework: Mr. Lockwood tells the audience the story that Nelly Dean told him about something that happened 30 years before. It’s hearsay, even gossip: a diluted account that may or may not have any basis. Given this information, are we still afraid of Heathcliff when he appears? Yes. However, what has happened to skew Nelly’s story? How do her prejudices change the original events? Why does Mr. Lockwood insist on inserting himself into this story? How do we trust? Basically, we have to because that’s all that Brontë gives us to go on.

In my novel, Honey speaks about events that took place 65 years ago (and they usually centered around her), which tends to highlight negative information. Don’s narration is more fresh, but he thinks of himself as this altruistic person who really has some selfish motivations. So how does an audience pursue a character through their story without losing touch with reality? We must question the remind ourselves that (especially in literature) nothing is as it seems, that one account can have several sides, and that our hero or heroine can have ulterior motives.

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