Discuss the reliability or otherwise of specific narrators employed in the texts that you have studied on this module.
When discussing the reliability of specific narrators within a text there is a need to look at the consistency of the narrators and also their trustworthiness. It is also important to assess how the author has used the narrators within a novel and to what extent this use has on a readers view of reliability. The novels Heart of Darkness By Joseph Conrad and A Hero of Our Time By Mikhail Lermontov both contain more than one narrator. Heart of Darkness has two narrators, an anonymous passenger on a pleasure ship who listens to Marlow's story and Marlow himself. The first narrator speaks in the first person plural on behalf of four other passengers who are listening to Marlow's tale. Marlow also speaks in the first person. A Hero of Our Time has three narrators: the travelling officer who speaks in the first person and who is one of two narrators in `Bela', and the sole narrator in `Maxim Maximych'. The second narrator in `Bela' is Maxim Maximych and the final narrator is Pechorin.
In Heart of Darkness Conrad's use of Marlow as a literary device is quite important and in using Marlow to tell the story Conrad moves away from the typical nineteenth century novel's omniscient narrator. We do not have the impersonal narrator who tells us not only what happens to the characters but also what is going on in their minds. We are never allowed to know more than Marlow himself, and Marlow knows only what he perceives through his senses. Thus we are never directly told what motivated say the manager or Kurtz. Instead we get Marlow's speculations on what their motivations might have been and we can guess at a wider understanding of events than Conrad allows Marlow. This speculation and guesswork leaves reliability open to question, as it is not fact but mere observation. It is the reader who has to decide on many occasions whether Marlow's opinions are close to the truth or way off.
The reader may find it easy to trust Marlow's opinions and also what he says because of how the story is told to them. Heart of Darkness is framed by the narration of another nameless observer (which could quite easily be them). As a result, Marlow's whole story appears enclosed in quotation marks. One reason for this may be that the reader feels as if he/she is hearing the tale as well. Having Marlow in front of us on the Nellie, we feel the immediacy of his speaking voice and the actual sensation of a sailor spinning a yarn before us. If Conrad had written the whole novel in the first person, getting rid of the primary narrator, he would have needed to leave out Marlow's hesitations and digressions, which are important to the style of the novel. We would also miss the feeling that Marlow was working out the meaning of his tale as he went along and that he trusts us to be a part of that process. A writer, unlike a speaker usually has things worked out in...