July 15, 2024
The Unreliable Narrator – Analysis of the Story Emergency

The fictional and adventurous story, Emergency, is written by Denis Johnson in the first-person, and unreliable form of narrative. During this stimulating and fictional short story, Dennis Johnson emphasizes the confessional nature as one which lacks credibility. The lack of such credibility comes in the form of: untrustworthiness, incomplete information, and hallucination, which at times stem from the use of drugs, infantile immaturity, lies, deception, mistakes, or even manipulation.

ZZ Packer states in one of her analysis entitled, A Conversation on Writing, “The power of the first-person point of view… is a confessional storytelling voice” (Delbanco184). She continues her analysis by summarizing such narrative as being based on: unreliability, ignorance, personal bias, intentional deception, and even insanity existing in the narration by the unreliable narrator (196). For example, in the fictional story Emergency; Johnson begins with, “I’d been working in the emergency room for about three weeks, I guess” (Creative Writing 272). He continues, “I just started wondering…coronary care…cafeteria…looking for Georgie…he often stole pills from the cabinets” (272). The confessional nature of the first-person “I” is obvious in this unreliable narrative point of view as the story unfolds the relationship with Georgie and the unreliable narrator.

Furthermore, the incomplete nature of the unreliable story teller is associated with symbolic drug use and/or abuse. The narrator states, “…Georgie, the orderly, [is] a pretty good friend of mine; he often stole pills from the cabinets” (272). This example shows the untrustworthiness and self-interest in the unreliable character first-person narrative. The story continues with, “Let me check your pockets, man…I found his stash” (Page 273). Furthermore, the confessional nature in the story indicates, “I stood around…chewing up more of Georgie’s pills. Some tasted the way urine smells, some burned, some tastes like chalk” (Page 274). In this narrative there is a variety of stimulating drug use and abuse. One could state that drug use results in incoherent and incomplete statements from the narrator and cast great doubt on the credibility of the first-person cognitive thinking pattern, which operates in a state of altered consciousness.

Most importantly, the doctors and nurses were unable to figure out a proper treatment plan for Terrence Weber, the patient who walked into the emergency room with a knife in his eye, and alleged that his wife stabbed him in his sleep for looking at the lady sunbathing next door. When Georgie was finished disinfecting the patient, he returned with a hunting knife in his hand.

Apparently, Georgie had removed the knife from Weber’s eye without realizing the impact of his actions. The most the doctor had to say was, “Where did you get that?” Additionally, one nurse said after a short while, “Your shoelace is untied.” This gave Georgie time to put the knife down while tying his shoelace without one clue of what is taking place (Page 275).

Next, the altered state of consciousness based on the unreliable narrator is obvious in this dialogue, “Do you realize it’s going to snow? He was right; a gun blue storm was shaping up. We got out and walked around idiotically…the crispness and tang of everything green stabbing us” (Page 277). The hallucination effects of the pills are obvious in this dialogue. Additionally, while stumbling into a military cemetery, the characters now looking in the sky saw angels descending with huge faces streaked with light and full of pity, which caused Georgie to open his arms and cried, “It’s the drive-in man! The drive-in…They are showing movies in a…blizzard.” Georgie screamed. “I See, I thought it was something else” (Page 278).

Based on the narrative, the setting of the story is in the summer and not winter; however, the dialogue between Georgie and the first-person unreliable narrator shifts to winter based on the analysis of hallucinatory impact from the pills they are eating, which shows a character flaw and an altered state of consciousness from the drugs. Obviously, there is a lack of alignment with reality and the narrator’s mental state of being with nature. The reflecting unreliability in judgment and the dialogue highlighting infantile immaturity in information regarding the present climatically condition, shows the lack of cognitive interpretation and faulty memory-thus unreliable unfolds!

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