The Unreliable Narrator in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

In Olga Tokarczuk’s novel, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Tokarczuk uses the literary device of an unreliable narrator to create a shocking plot twist to her novel. At the novel’s beginning, we are introduced to our narrator, Janina, an older woman in touch with nature and enamored with astrology. Tokarczuk puts the reader in Janina’s mind throughout the whole story. However, she can still develop a shocking ending through how she writes about Janina. 

From the very first chapter of the novel, Janina is already withholding information from the reader. After finding Big Foot dead and preparing his body, Janina starts searching his house. She ends up finding a picture in his drawer. Instead of letting the reader know what she’s seeing, Tokarczuk chooses to focus on how Janina feels and how her emotions take over her. In a longer paragraph, Tokarczuk writes that Janina can’t think properly, her ears are ringing, and she feels ready to fight someone. She goes on more about her emotions but never ends up telling the reader what was in the picture until the penultimate chapter. By bringing the photograph up so early in the story and hardly mentioning it again until the end, the reader forgets about the picture. We learn later that the picture contained Janina’s primary motive for killing all of the people who died mysteriously in this story. 

Throughout this novel, Janina believes that the animals and nature are taking revenge on these men and are killing them. She creates a very detailed theory that seems insane to the characters and the reader. By having a narrator that seems crazy and irrational, the reader kind of writes off the narrator as insane and does not see Janina’s true character. All in all, creating a mystery novel where the narrator ends up being the murderer is very hard to do. There is so much information withheld from the reader to lead up to the plot twist, but the story still feels very developed and intriguing. 

7 thoughts on “The Unreliable Narrator in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

  1. As annoying as her being an unreliable narrator, I think that it greatly adds to the story. Without it the secret would’ve been up from the beginning and the story wouldn’t have been able tom reach the levels that it did.

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  2. Katie W

    I agree with this. We had a discussion question in our class about if the story was written from another perspective. I feel that if it was it would be a completely different story.

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  3. Olivia L

    I feel like the unreliable narrator trope is one that is easy to mess up as an author. In this case, I feel like it was done okay. It was sort of easy to predict (for me), and I’ve read books that I’ve felt have done the trope better. It wasn’t terrible by any means, though.

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  4. VICTORIA H

    I didn’t even think about Janina withholding info about what was in the picture as one part of her unreliability, very astute observation! Also goes to show the subtlety of the author’s choices

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