This article discusses the common traits of unreliable narrators and provides solutions for those seeking to defeat unreliable narrators in legal battles. Since the unreliable narrator concept first developed and evolved in literary analysis, the article explores and compares unreliable narrators in both fiction and law.
When the audience cannot depend on the accuracy or reliable character of a narrator’s account, literary criticism deems these storytellers “unreliable narrators.” Unreliable narrators exhibit certain “tells,” which disclose to savvy or intuitive audience members that some aspect of the narrators’ tale is dubious. These unreliable narrators can be divided into two broad categories, self-serving and self-undermining. In the self-serving category, the narrators may be outright “shady” characters who deceive others or perhaps even deceive themselves. However, in the self-undermining category, the narrators may simply be extremely naïve, insecure, intellectually or emotionally disabled, or incapacitated in some way. This article will touch only briefly on the self-undermining unreliable narrators. A future article will address how to aid self-undermining unreliable narrators in greater detail. This article’s purpose is to aid advocates in defeating unreliable opponents and is not intended as a means of discerning the truth.
Part II of this article provides a brief synopsis of the primary examples of unreliable narrators in fiction and law used in the article. Part III briefly discusses self-undercutting unreliable narrators. Part IV examines self-serving unreliable narrators’ traits in closer detail. It underlines the common traits shared by nonfictional unreliable narrators in legal narratives and in unreliable narrators in fiction. Part V explores some of the reasons why certain audiences forgive unreliable narrators and offers insight into ways of holding self-serving unreliable narrators accountable. Part VI concludes this article.
Cathren Page, An Unusual Suspect? Unreliable Narrators in Fiction and Law, 9 Berkeley Ent. & Sports L.J. 1 (2020).