(Un)reliable Storytellers


October 9, 2014 by bck1402

Some time back was a Daily Post / Prompt about The Unreliable Narrator, so here’s my experience with the concept.

For first person narratives, can anyone give an example of a reliable narrator?

It’s just out of curiosity.

If you were to gather five people to witness an event, chances are very likely that you will have five different accounts of the same event, no matter how truthful each of those five might be. Just a couple of days back, I was discussing the nature of first-person narratives, third-person limited and third-person omniscient narratives with a class of students. I also noted that first person narrators don’t necessarily know everything that happens within a story, especially if they are not there to witness specific events. That is opposed to a third-person omniscient narrator who would know every little detail of every character and event that happens within the created world.

DraculaFor my experience, it falls back to The Syndi-Jean Journal, since it is the lead character writing a journal, hence a first-person narrator. It was important to keep in mind the people she would interact with and the events she’s gets involved in. It was also obvious that her friends – the people she would mix with and write about – would have lives of their own even when she wasn’t there with them all the time. Would that make her a reliable narrator? Very unlikely.

Within the context of the story itself, Jeannie isn’t allowed to divulge certain bits of information and that leads to some creative word wrangling on her end. Of course, that would take away her reliability as an honest story-teller no matter how earnestly she tries to chronicle her life.


While I relate more to Frankenstein, it was in Dracula where Mina Murray wrote about making the effort to write things as accurately as possible, which included what people said or did. – Syndi-Jean

I shall try to do what I see lady journalists do, interviewing and writing descriptions and trying to remember conversations. I am told that, with a little practice, one can remember all that goes on or that one hears said during a day. – Mina Murray; Chapter 5 of Dracula by Bram Stoker

For me, Dracula is a fascinating narrative. Journal entires, and letters and reports, diary entries, correspondences, newspaper articles, phonograph transcripts and more, accumulated and pieced together to form the long over-reaching story. Numerous narrators contributing, each being as ernest and truthful in their accounts of the events that transpire. And just how reliable might each of these narrators be?

FrankensteinThe same might be said of Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, a narrative formed when Victor Frankenstein’s tale is transcribed by Robert Walton, the captain of a ship. With Victor being the narrator, it’s up to us to determine if everything he tells the captain is truth, or at the very least, his perception of the truth. As we might well know, truth is subjective.

So as with Syndi-Jean, while she is the one who chronicles her own life throughout the year, even she would admit to holding certain things back and not revealing everything, even when she’s allowed to. Not to say that I was attempting to join those prestigious narrative ranks with my own effort, but I’d like to think I came close in my own way. That really is for others to say.

Any contributors?

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6 thoughts on “(Un)reliable Storytellers

  1. […] Berning Along (Un)reliable Storytellers […]

  2. Emily says:

    Hmm interesting point. Your post really got me thinking. It’s true that every narrator has his/her biases that do skew his/her view. Definitely tricky to know if anyone is truly reliable.

    • bck1402 says:

      I’ve been thinking if a third-person omniscient narrator would also be an unreliable narrator, being able to wield the power and control over his/her characters and the nature of the narrative at the same time.

  3. bikerchick57 says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It clarifies greatly the concept of an unreliable narrator. I was concerned that I didn’t truly get the meaning. I also intend to check out the Syndi-Jean Journal as a possible future read.

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October 2014


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