Good Man, Bad Man by Jerome Weidman, 1967
The magic trick:
Creating an unreliable narrator by mixing youthful ignorance and long-stewing bitterness
I could write pages upon pages about the merits of this story. It is so very good. Please find it. Read it.
The key trick is a fairly common one. The narrator establishes himself as an adult looking back on an event of his childhood. But as he recalls the memory for the reader, he immediately assumes the innocent point of view of the child. So now we’re walking through the story with a child’s open mind and naiveté. We also have to factor in the narrator’s bitterness and bias borne of old age.
That is a recipe for a fascinating unreliable narrator. Who is the good man? Who is bad? Is it really that simple? Is there something there to find in the subtext? Is there nothing more to it?
And that’s quite a trick on Weidman’s part.
“We have asked you to come here today because we are faced with a very painful problem,” said the man in the middle. “It has to do with Mr. Osterweil.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Do you think he is a good Scoutmaster?”
“Good,” said the man in the middle. “We would be very sorry to hear that your troop had not been assigned a good Scoutmaster. What’s that?”
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