Unreliable First-Person Narrator
The unnamed first-person narrator in this story is characterized not by what he does but by what he says, thinks, and feels. The reader experiences all of the events in the story through this lens. The reader understands Irene and her actions only through her brother’s opinions. While this creates a sense of intimacy between the reader and the character of the narrator, it also distances the reader from all else. There is no second opinion of events, no objective point of view, only subjective. This paradox is occasionally defined by the term unreliable narrator.
A first-person narrator can present hazards for the reader, who must infer what is going on despite any details that are left out. What the narrator chooses to divulge and what the narrator chooses to conceal are suspect. In addition, the narrative in this story is somewhat jarring, making seemingly random leaps from subject to subject between paragraphs. These shifts are also hard to understand, as it is not immediately clear what exactly the narrator is referring to.
Understatement, the use of restraint in describing important points, is a large part of the narrator’s unreliable and jarring story. The elusive meanings of his sudden subject shifts are largely caused by understatement. For instance, the story begins with the statement ‘‘we liked the house.’’ However, it is not yet apparent who is included in that ‘‘we.’’ It also takes some time for the speaker to reveal that he is a male. These are instances of understatement. The most salient example in the story is when the narrator comments, ‘‘I’ll always have a clear memory of it because it happened so simply and without fuss.’’ Here, it is not clear what exactly is being referred to. The mysterious noises that follow remain a mystery because of this pervasive understatement.
At the same time, these moments of extreme understatement are contrasted with moments of overstatement. The speaker devotes a great deal of the narrative to describing the architectural details in the house, as well as its layout. He also details his and Irene’s daily routine, especially as it pertains to cleaning the house. Another subject that the narrator devotes a great deal of attention to is Irene’s knitting. He describes the clothing she makes and even effusively details the actual act of her knitting. Both topics are over-explained. As such, they only serve as a contrast to the patently under-explained events that lay at the heart of the story.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Julio Cartazar – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.