What Is a Reliable Narrator? Defining Literary Trust

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Ever wondered about the significance of a narrator in a story?

The narrator plays a very important role because he/she tells the story, and the readers only know and understand what the narrator shares.

Every story is told from the narrator’s point of view, and they may or may not be part of the story.

In literature, point of view (POV) is the perspective from which the narrative is conveyed to the readers. An author can use first-person, second-person, third-person, third-person omniscient, or fourth-person POV.

As readers, we trust the narrator telling the story, right?

However, readers must understand that there are reliable and unreliable narrators. Understanding the meaning of reliable and unreliable narrator is essential to thoroughly analyze a story.

In this article, I will discuss reliable narrators. Let’s learn what is a reliable narrator, its characteristics, and its impact on storytelling.

What Is a Reliable Narrator?

In literature, a reliable narrator is a character or point of view who tells every detail of a story in an unbiased, trustworthy, and believable manner.

For the readers, a reliable narrator describes all the events and information with full credibility and without any manipulation.

Within the story’s context, this kind of narrator is truthful and accurate and provides information to the best of their knowledge. But, you must be aware that a reliable narrator does not always possess an excellent understanding of events; sometimes, they might have limited information or biases that can influence their narration.

There are reliable and unreliable narrators in a story. As a reader, it can be challenging to differentiate between the two. However, there are a few factors that can help you understand the difference.

Let’s know more about reliable narrators.

Characteristics of a Reliable Narrator

A reliable narrator is considered credible by the readers. Some of the characteristics of reliable narrators are:


While reading, you will notice that a reliable narrator maintains a consistent perspective throughout. They won’t frequently contradict their statements or try to confuse the readers. They will have a uniform tone throughout the story without any unnecessary inconsistencies. 


This type of narrator provides accurate information to the readers. They do not intentionally manipulate the events or emotions to complicate the minds of an audience. Either there will be evidence or experience involved to back their findings. 

Moreover, accuracy is one of the must-have attributes you should look for when identifying a reliable narrator. 


They portray the circumstances, situations, emotions, dialogues, characters, etc., as they are, without any twists or personal biases. This helps the readers to form their own opinions and perspectives regarding the story.


Readers can rely on the words of a reliable narrator. They deliver information with clarity and accuracy so people can easily understand the narrative. 


A reliable narrator shows empathy towards the characters and the events that are going on, understands the essence of the overall plot, and delivers narratives accordingly.

They do not demonstrate any kind of personal judgements; instead, empathize and sympathize to make the story relatable to the readers.


A narrator is very transparent about their narration, acknowledging their limitations, biases, interests, knowledge gaps, and more.


They won’t misguide the readers for personal gains or to play with a reader’s mind. A narrator values their integrity and incorporates moral and ethical principles in their storytelling.

Impact of Narrator Reliability on Storytelling

The reliability of a narrator deeply impacts a story as readers respond and connect according to the narrative. Have a look at the impact of narrator reliability on storytelling.

  • Build Trust: If the narrator is reliable, readers can fully trust the narrative without wasting time questioning the validity of the information. Thus, reliability helps build trust with readers.
  • Simplifies Plot Understanding: If the narrator is reliable, there will be no manipulation or inconsistencies in the story, making it easier for the readers to understand the plotline.
  • Forms Reader Interpretation: When the narrator is reliable, the narration shapes the reader’s interpretation. The narrative leads the readers to certain conclusions without skepticism or complicated thoughts.
  • Enhances Readers Engagement: Readers engage better when they build trust with the narrator, as it helps them to focus more on the plot development and characters.
  • Better Understanding of the Characters: A reliable narrator portrays a character clearly, which helps the audience relate to them on a deeper level. This leads them to better understand the character’s behaviors, personality, thought process, and more.
  • Easy Comprehension of Themes: An author includes a lot of themes in a story. With a trustworthy narrator, themes are smoothly conveyed and interpreted. Readers engage with the story more when they comprehend the themes without any difficulties.
  • Build Readers Empathy: When everything is narrated accurately, readers are bound to empathize with the characters and events unfolding within the story.
  • Creates Narrative Tension: If the narrator is unreliable, it creates narrative tension as readers navigate through the story to learn the truth and lies. So, reliability matters to avoid heightening tensions so the story flows smoothly.
  • Provides Satisfaction: A reliable narrator provides satisfaction to the readers by keeping the story engaging, believable, and coherent.

Some Examples of Reliable Narrators in Literature

Below are some examples of reliable narrators from different books.

  • Dr. John Watson in “Sherlock Holmes” by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Scout Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
  • Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Jane Eyre in “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte BrontĂ«


Narrator is an essential part of storytelling. As mentioned earlier, narrators can be both reliable and unreliable. It depends on the author what kind of narrator he chooses for his story. 

A reliable narrator is an easygoing storyteller who accurately narrates all the details and maintains the readers’ trust. 

I hope that now you know what a reliable narrator is and how it affects the story.

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