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Narrators in Stories

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The celebrated authors of the short stories “The Cask of Amontillado”, “Hills Like White Elephants”, and “How” masterfully analyze the subtlest movements of a human soul in their literary pieces. Nonetheless, the three writers entrust their narrators and protagonists with different tasks that should be fulfilled within each story. Consequently, the differences in how the narrators present their stories are considerable.

The short story “The cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe is nothing but a confession of mentally disturbed man, possessed with the only idea – to take revenge for insult. Nonetheless, is spite of the narrator’s attempts to convince the readers of the validity of his decision, his passionate speech, confused explanations and evident obsession are evidence to the contrary: “I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.” (161).  Thus, despite first person narrative, which is supposed to be trustworthy, Poe’s narrator, Montresor, can be regarded unreliable, since his idée fixe and unstable mental state make his credibility easily compromised.    

In contrast to Montresor, Earnest Hemingway’s narrator in “Hills Like White Elephants” acts as a dispassionate documentarian, ascertaining the facts and events. The narrator refrains from describing the thoughts, internal motives, or experiences of the heroes. A third person narrative only contributes to the narrator’s objectivity. Sometimes it seems that the person, who raises such important philosophical themes as loneliness, lack of understanding, barriers in communication, lacks personal involvement and mere human compassion himself:

They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I've never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
“I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn't have doesn't prove anything.” (168).

Nonetheless, such deliberate restraint does not prevent the readers from drawing proper conclusions.

Lorrie Moore resorts to quite unconventional narrative in her “How”. The story is told in the second person. From the very beginning of the story, the author empowers her narrator to make judgments about the internal experience of the characters, whose life is being scrutinized. The patronizing tone of the sophisticated narrator also makes itself felt. Thus, the narrator attempts to explain the obvious things to those entangled in their own doubts and inexplicable feelings: “he wants to go with you” and “wants to be what it is that you want to be.” (171). Thus, Moore’s personal involvement and eagerness to help resolve the hero’s existential problems are beyond doubts.    

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