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The Unreliable Narrator in Visual Storytelling: The Euphoria Case

In every form of fictional narrative, the concept of the identity manoeuvring the story, although essential to a meaningful understanding of the work, is deeply entangled in a weave of complex connotations. More often than not, the ambiguous confines between the creator’s intention, their storytelling devices and the reader’s perception, makes the process of clearly evaluating the various components and mechanisms of narration exceedingly hard. In this complex discourse around the credibility and objectiveness of the tale, one of the most fascinating and scrutinized figures is undeniably that of the 'unreliable narrator'.

(Euphoria, 2019)

Before delving into the mechanism of unreliable narration, it is fundamental to specify that in fictional and literary analysis, there are mainly three well-established notable figures taking an active part in the narration: the author, the narrator and the implied author.

Firstly, the author, intended as the real person behind the artistic work, is the creator that forged the story in real life. As the actual entity that gave birth to the product, this figure is necessary on an epistemological level but is completely external from the diegetic happenings of the story.

The narrator, even though they might not always be overtly present, is the entity recounting the story. Whether it be in first, second or third person, they are the speaker of consciousness that engenders, frames or relates the events of the narration. They could be entirely embedded in the world they describe, either as an active character or as an observer; they could be retelling the events from a distant perspective in the future or they could even be omniscient and barely signal their own presence, but they are the voice disclosing the tale to the audience.

In 1961, Wayne C. Booth's book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, offers the definition of another theoretical figure; this being, a middle-ground imaginary entity between the author and the text, is the implied author. The implied author is the fictionalized persona the audience perceives to be the source of the story, as an imagined personality standing behind the work. The implied author’s values, ideas and characteristics, as much as their will, voice and personality are wholly inferred by readers from the text. They are to be distinguished from the author as, in fact, they’re not real but an imaginary construct; yet, they are also to be separated from the narrator because, differently from the narrator, the implied author stands at a remove from the narrative voice.

Given these premises, the commonly agreed upon definition of an unreliable narrator is that they are a narrator whose believability is compromised. Even though they are the character disclosing the tale, their account of the story is, for some reason, either partial, skewed, unclear or equivocal. It can be a deliberate choice on their part, as they might be lying for personal reasons or just for their own amusement; it can be an unwilling consequence of either their immaturity, their mental state or their unconventional moral alignment; or it can consist of a nuanced combination of cognizant decisions and subconscious suppressed emotions, but the core characteristic of an unreliable narrator is their narrative untrustworthiness.