Moral Positioning of the Reader through Narrative Unreliability

By Soon Peng Su.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The aim of my paper is to examine the close interlocking of narrative construction, reader’s apperception and moral evaluation. I have chosen Barnes’ Love, Etc. for this as this novel pushes the borders of the conventions of its genre by adopting a distinctive and innovative narrative form consisting of monologues where characters take turns to narrate an event or a version of an event, all addressed directly to the reader. There are thus various intradiegetic first-person narrators, and an absence of an extradiegetic narrator. Such a technique offers a potential which Barnes exploits for introducing unreliability in narration. This paper suggests that this narrative technique plays a crucial role in the ethical positioning of the reader which leads to a moral evaluation. This is hardly straightforward as I will argue that reliability is not a binary and, consequently, moral positioning is not an “either-or” matter, so that the reader is provoked to think more deeply about the moral point of the novel. Barnes’ narrative technique along with his stylistic manipulations open up an ambivalence about morality, not just within the novel but also, because the reader is directly and actively invited to interact with the text, the moral norms and standards that are taken for granted in the reader’s real world.

Keywords: Moral Positioning, Narrative Unreliability, Julian Barnes, Reader’s Adjudication, Stylistics

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.391-400. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 612.604KB).

Dr. Soon Peng Su

Associate Professor, English Department, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Su Soon Peng (Dr) is an Associate Professor with the English Department of University of Malaya. She has published on gender and narrative in advertising, word-formation, stylistics and lexical ambiguity in poetry. Her current research interests are narrative, discourses on power, self and gender, life-writing and reader-response criticism.


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