unreliable narrator

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American literary theorist Wayne Booth's term for a narrator who cannot be relied on either to tell the truth or in the case of self-reflexive narrators to know the truth. For example Humbert Humbert, the narrator of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955), is obviously extremely biased in his view of things, constantly shifting blame for his actions onto the teenaged Lolita; but, he also seems to deceive himself as to the true nature of what he is doing. A major part of the dramatic interest of the novel stems from the need to try to sort out these two different kinds of deception. Similarly, narrators can be considered unreliable if they are found not to be in full possession of all the relevant facts. Henry James's Turn of the Screw (1898) is a well-known example of this type.

Subjects: Literature.

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