Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Narration

The Narrator

Defining the word narrator poses an interesting problem. When speaking of narration, we often use language that refers to the narrator as a person: we can define the narrator as "the storyteller," for instance, or the "voice" that relates the story to us. Such definitions work well enough for most purposes, but we need also to remember that a narrator does not have to be a single person or voice. A narrator can switch perspectives or "identities" in ways that people cannot, and many authors explore the possibilities of narratives that do not allow us to think of the narrator as a single participant in the action, a consistent voice, or a unified perspective.

Reliability

On the other hand, many works of fiction do indeed invite us to imagine their narrators as people. Like people, these narrators will sometimes prove reliable, sometimes unreliable. An unreliable narrator presents a version of events that the reader recognizes to be slanted for some reason. By choosing a reliable narrator, on the other hand, an author sets out to convince us that the narrator's presentation is that of an impartial observer who shares the judgments and priorities of the implied reader.

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