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 narrative analysis 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).