The unreliable narrator – Analysis of the story Emergency

The fictional adventure story, Emergency, is written by Denis Johnson in the first person and in an unreliable form of narration. Throughout this thought-provoking and fictional tale, Dennis Johnson emphasizes the confessional nature as lacking in credibility. Lack of such credibility comes in the form of: mistrust, incomplete information, and hallucinations, sometimes stemming from drug use, childhood immaturity, lies, deceit, mistakes, or even manipulation.

ZZ Packer states in one of his analyzes entitled, A Conversation on Writing, “The power of the first person point of view…is a confessional narrative voice” (Delbanco184). He continues his analysis by summarizing that such a narrative is based on: unreliability, ignorance, personal bias, intentional deception, and even insanity existing in the narrative of the unreliable narrator (196). For example, in the fictional story Emergency; Johnson begins by saying, “I’d been working in the ER for about three weeks, I guess” (Creative Writing 272). He continues: “I began to wonder… coronary care… cafeteria… looking for Georgie… she often stole pills from cabinets” (272). The confessional nature of the first-person “me” is obvious in this unreliable narrative point of view as the story develops the relationship with Georgie and the unreliable narrator.

Furthermore, the incomplete nature of the unreliable narrator is associated with symbolic drug use and/or abuse. The narrator states, “…Georgia, the orderly, [is] a very good friend of mine; often stole pills from cabinets” (272). This example shows the unreliable character’s lack of confidence and self-interest in the first-person narrative. The story continues with: “Let me check your pockets, man… I found his (Page 273). Furthermore, the confessional nature of the story indicates: “I stood…chewing more of Georgie’s pills. Some tasted like her urine smells, some burned, some tasted like chalk” (Page 274). In this narrative there is a variety of stimulant drug use and abuse. It could be argued that drug use results in incoherent and incomplete statements by the narrator and casts great doubt on the credibility of the first-person cognitive thought pattern, operating in a state of altered consciousness.

More importantly, doctors and nurses were unable to come up with an adequate treatment plan for Terrence Weber, the patient who walked into the ER with a knife to his eye and claimed his wife stabbed him in his sleep for looking at the Lady. sunbathing next door. When Georgie finished disinfecting the patient, she returned with a hunting knife in hand.

Georgie had apparently removed the knife from Weber’s eye without realizing the impact of her actions. The most the doctor had to say was, “Where did you get that?” Also, a nurse said after a while, “Your shoe is untied.” This gave Georgie time to put her knife down while she tied her shoelaces with no idea what was happening (page 275).

Then the unreliable narrator-based altered state of consciousness is obvious in this dialogue: “Do you realize it’s going to snow? I was right; a gun blue storm was brewing. We got out and walked like idiots… freshness and the taste of everything green stab us” (Page 277). The hallucinatory effects of the pills are evident in this dialogue. Also, as they stumbled upon a military cemetery, the characters now looking up at the sky saw angels descending with huge faces dappled with light and filled with pity, causing Georgie to spread her arms wide and yell, “It’s the drive-in!” … They’re showing movies in a… blizzard.” George yelled. “I see, I thought it was something else” (Page 278).

According to the narrative, the setting of the story is summer and not winter; however, the dialogue between Georgie and the unreliable first-person narrator shifts to winter based on analysis of the hallucinatory impact of the pills they are eating, showing a character flaw and an altered state of consciousness from the drugs. Obviously, there is a misalignment with reality and the narrator’s state of mind of being with nature. The unreliability reflected in the judgment and dialogue highlighting the child’s immaturity in the current weather condition information, shows the lack of cognitive interpretation and faulty memory, thus developing unreliable!

Based on this narrative, one must pose the question, “What story will Wilson’s wife receive from the unreliable narrator, regarding her husband’s treatment in the Intensive Care Unit?”

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