Follow up on our discussion of Alice Munro

Last week, I made the rather bizarre claim that the third person narrator in “The Bear Came over the Mountain” is unreliable because his judgments seem impossible to separate from those of Grant (which is why I go against the convention of calling the narrator of a story written by a woman “her”). Not surprisingly, this claim confused some students–not surprisingly, because it is rather counterintuitive. Here is an attempt to explain it using the same cartoon I used to describe third-person subjective narration (also known as “third person limited omniscient” or “reported monologue”). Here is the basic schema:

Image Now, let’s examine the consequences of changing how much discrepancy there is between narrator and focalizer.






Now, if we think of this last narrator as a first-person narrator “putting on” a third person voice, it’s easy to imagine that this narrator can be unreliable–we just need to find evidence that the narrative as a whole gives us reason to suspect or doubt his judgment, interpretation or sanity. Grant seems very sane, but his judgments, biases and analyses are often undermined by other elements in the story–as we saw in class.


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