Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Literary fan. Literary fan Wonders, “What Is an Unreliable Narrator?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Literary fan!

Many of our Wonder Friends already know about perspective. It’s something everyone has—it’s each person’s own way of looking at the world. This can be shaped by beliefs, past events, and even biases.

Perspective also plays a role in literature. When writers tell a story, they do so through a narrator. That’s the character who describes what’s happening in a book, play, or other type of story. Readers tend to trust the narrator. They believe this character must be telling them the truth. But is that always the case?

No, it’s not! Often, the narrator is influenced by their own perspective. They may not tell the whole story. They may even be dishonest. Because of this, the character loses credibility. They become an unreliable narrator.

Unreliable narrators are most common in stories told from the first person point of view. That means the narrator is part of the story. They take part in the action. In first person point of view, the narrator will use words like “I,” “me,” and “we.”

What makes a narrator unreliable? In some cases, the character telling the story is simply dishonest. They deceive the reader on purpose. The narrator may be hiding something, such as their own misdeeds.

In other stories, a narrator may be unreliable without being dishonest. This can happen when the character doesn’t have all the information they need. It could mean that the narrator is quite young. They may also lack experience with the topic they’re talking about. The character could also understand reality differently due to their mental health.

A narrator can also be unreliable if the story they tell is heavily affected by their own perspective. For example, a character with a strong bias may exaggerate certain parts of a story. They may leave other facts out. They may do so to make the story better fit their own worldview. 

Why would a writer use an unreliable narrator? They may do so to push the reader to dig deeper into the story. It can also give a story the element of surprise. Imagine finding out at the end of a book that the narrator has been dishonest. It can make for quite the plot twist!

Can you think of any unreliable narrators? One well-known example is Pi in The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. And, of course, unreliable narrators also show up outside of literature. They appear in many video games. You may also find examples in film or TV. When you really start to look, you may see unreliable narrators in many places!

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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