Short Stories with Unreliable Narrators: Examples

Unreliable Narrator Short Story Examples
Unreliable Narrator Short Story Examples

Here are some examples of short stories with unreliable narrators. The deception could be due to immaturity or inexperience, a mental problem, self-centeredness, not taking the role of storyteller seriously, or the telling of deliberate lies, so the lack of reliability could be accidental or intentional. An unreliable narrator adds an extra dimension to a story, as we have to figure out where the narrator is misleading us. I hope you find something interesting here.

Short Stories with Unreliable Narrators

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

A man is on a bridge in Alabama, his hands bound and a rope around his neck. He’s a civilian, a confederate sympathizer, and is being held by Federal soldiers. He’s been sentenced to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.

Read “An Occurrence . . .” (Includes Analysis)

“Haircut” by Ring Lardner

A barber talks about the local practical joker after he was recently killed.

This is the fourth story in the preview of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

An unnamed narrator describes how he killed a man; he tries to convince his listener of his sanity and wisdom. He believed his boarder, an old man, watched him with an “Evil Eye.”

This is the second story in the preview of Great American Short Stories.

“The Boarded Window” by Ambrose Bierce

A man who lives in the wilderness prepares his wife’s body for burial. There is an incident that night, which the narrator claims explains the mystery of why his cabin had a boarded window. (Summary)

This story can be read in the preview of 100 Great American Short Stories(80% into preview)

“Circuit City” by J Robert Lennon

The narrator and two coworkers, both named John, suspect that the manager, also named John, is planning to rob the electronics store they work at. They’re having a closing out sale, which John decides to make cash-only. It turns out to be a huge success.

This story can be read in the preview of Tiny Crimes: Very Short Tales of Mystery and Murder(32% in)

“Game” by Donald Barthelme

Two soldiers monitor an underground console with instructions to turn their activation keys if certain data is received. Their expected relief hasn’t arrived and they’re feeling the strain of the confinement. (Summary)

Read “Game”

Unreliable Narrator Short Story Examples, Cont’d

“In a Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

A woodcutter finds the body of a samurai in an out-of-the-way grove. It had a single sword cut to the chest, and the blood was dried. There was no weapon present, only a rope and a comb. The police commissioner receives testimony from several other sources in an attempt to get to the truth of the crime.

Read “In a Grove”

“Eve’s Diary” by Mark Twain

Eve chronicles her life starting with her first day in existence. She relates her impressions as she discovers things in her environment.

Read “Eve’s Diary”

“Strawberry Spring” by Stephen King

The narrator sees the name Springheel Jack in the newspaper. It reminds him of his time eight years ago at New Sharon Teachers’ College when a female student was found murdered in a campus parking lot.

Read “Strawberry Spring”

“The Diary of a Madman” by Nikolai Gogol

A middle-aged government clerk keeps a diary that includes the times he is marginalized by others, with his fanciful explanations for what’s really happening. His perceptions become increasingly outrageous as he loses grip on reality.

Read “The Diary of a Madman”

“Why I Live at the P. O.” by Eudora Welty

The narrator’s sister, Stella-Rondo, is coming back home. She’s separated from her husband, Mr. Whitaker, whom she had stolen from the narrator. She returns with a two-year-old adopted blonde daughter, Shirley-T. The narrator notes that the girl resembles both sides of the family. The sisters, and the family in general, engage in lots of petty arguing.

Read “Why I Live at the P. O.”

“Race at Morning” by William Faulkner

A hunting party, including a twelve-year-old boy who narrates, sets out one morning after a deer.

“How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life Over Again” by Joyce Carol Oates

A sixteen-year-old girl relates the events that lead her to a house of correction. Looking for love and attention at home, she engaged in petty crimes, which escalated to her running away.

Read “How I Contemplated…”

I’ll keep adding examples of short stories with unreliable narrators as I find more.