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An unreliable narrator is a literary device in which a story's account of the events may not be entirely trustworthy, due to either personal bias of the narrator of or inability to understand the events they have witnessed . The device is often used in literature told in the first-person ("I") narrative viewpoint, however, it can refer to any story (or "story within a story") in which the narrative is suspect due to misinformation, missing information, or deliberate deception - including those told from the third-person ("he/she/it") perspective. The device can also be used in other media such as film and tv, where the narrative can be considered as coming from the viewpoint of a character's dialogue, artifacts within the story such as a film or written passage witnessed by the characters, or even the perspective of the camera itself.
See also: Unreliable narrator at Wikipedia.
In addition, some fans believe that smaller stories within the full Lost story can be attributed with unreliable narrators.
In "Hearts and Minds", Boone finds Shannon dead. Later, Locke tells Boone that Shannon was still alive, and that the Island forced Boone to perceive Shannon's death because it was vital to his "survival on this island".
This story within the Lost story as a whole was narrated from Boone's perspective (i.e, the audience did not know that Shannon was still alive until Boone knew that Shannon was still alive). Boone was unreliable as a narrator, because he was under the influence of the drug Locke used on him. This special type of third person limited narration, which shows the incorrect perceptions of a single character, is also used in the film and story versions of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.
Dreams and visions
Dream sequences are often not immediately recognizable as dreams, and only revealed as such later. Sometimes they are set up to appear as if they are flashbacks (such as Charlie's first dream in "Fire + Water"), sometimes they appear to be part of the on-island narrative (such as Claire's dreams in "Raised by Another", Eko's dreams in "?"). In "?", Locke was even having a dream from Eko's perspective.
Likewise, Desmond's future vision at the beginning of "Catch-22" was set up to look as if it was part of the on-island narrative up until the point where Charlie died, and it was only then that rapidly flashing images revealed that this scene was not told from an "objective" perspective.
Throughout the most of Season 6 the audience was led to believe that the flash-sideways was an alternate reality, created during the Incident. However, in the series finale it was revealed that the flash-sideways is a place created by most of the characters to find each other after their death before "moving on."
Literary references to unreliable narrators
The following books have been seen or referenced on Lost, or have been referenced by the writers. Each book has an unreliable narrator:
Related to Lost
- EW.com - EW senior writer Jeff Jensen asks readers to reconsider portions of the Lost story, by applying the term 'Unreliable Narrator'.
- Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck On the Island - The book (p 77-78) uses the term "unreliable narrator" when describing An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.
- Washington Post - Staff of the newspaper discuss how the Lost story "may be told by one or more unreliable narrators."
- Gregg Nations at the Fuselage - Gregg Nations answers a question from a viewer in a self-described "cryptic way", by writing: "there is a 3,000 year-old creation myth in a Hindu Veda which tells of the moment of creation. But at the very end, it is all called into question by asking what if the myth is wrong? (Interesting that the unreliable narrator was in use over 3,000 years ago, huh?)"
- The Florida Times-Union - ABC's 'Lost' is required viewing for students in UNF course: "UNF professor Sarah Clarke Stuart says there are also many literary techniques used in the show, such as nonlinear storytelling, symbolism and unreliable narrators".
General information about the term
- The Seven Best Civil War Movies: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge ("[the short story is] The quintessential example of an unreliable narrator"). 2 February 2007. CS Weekly Archive. accessed 21 April 2008.
- Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and the Unreliable Narrator. undated. NEH EDsitement. accessed 21 April 2008.