Unreliable Narrator as a Precarious Subject in Mona Awad’s “Bunny”

The contemporary novel Bunny (2019) by Mona Awad is a criticism of Ivy League schools, elitism, and white privilege. On the one hand, it is narrated by Samantha, an unreliable narrator with an unstable mind – probably due to schizophrenia – and a not-like-other-girls attitude and portrayal. She is insecure, shy, and anti-social. The teacher of her creative writing course at a prestigious university undervalues her as Samantha is seen as a poor girl with a non-existent future as a writer. This makes Samantha quite a precarious character. On the other hand, there are four other girls with white and wealthy privilege. When Samantha describes these women, the descriptions seem rather snobbish as these Bunnies are “pretentious and spoiled girls” who did not have to move a finger to get into such a “fancy” university like Warren. It is fascinating how the university accepts students primarily based on wealth rather than considering their talent, while a talented individual like Samantha gets overlooked or devalued. Thus, Mona Awad brilliantly criticizes how universities view students as “walking credit cards” rather than writers with potential.

By examining the main character as an unreliable narrator, I aim to analyze how Samantha’s unreliability, mental illness, and non-privileged background make her a precarious subject. Focusing on elitism, wealthy privilege, and the university, I will show how Bunny captures the precarious situation of a student who devalues herself because of the university’s burden on her.

It is mainly based on an interpretation but also implied at the novel’s end that Samantha might have schizophrenia when she looks to the ground and it responds: “Sure, Samantha,” says the mud, “I’d love to” (Awad 312). The context of the book’s last sentence is not important, but it finally shows another perspective on the main character’s state of mind. By reading this sentence, we can imagine that Samantha hears voices that are not supposed to be heard. But as we learn that right at the end of the story, Samantha is an unreliable narrator until that revealing point about her mental state. Some theorists argue that the character’s unreliability is due to the implied author, while others say that it is due to the implied reader. Per Krogh Hansen, in their essay Reconsidering unreliable narrator, states that the narrator becomes unreliable when the reader cannot relate to them: “If reader and narrator share a worldview, a moral standard, values, or beliefs, the narrator will be reliable to the reader. If not, he/she will be unreliable” (Hansen 228). Samantha has a different worldview because everything she experiences is manipulated by schizophrenia; thus, it could be more challenging to trust her instincts or views while reading the novel. However, even though her mental illness overshadows the whole story, we do not know that until the end of the book. So, what makes Samantha unreliable, and how does it manipulate the way in which the university, privilege, and elitism are portrayed?

Hansen continues that the reader is presented with a set of potential inconsistencies or the way we decode the character’s misunderstandings (Hansen 233), which might be the reason why Samantha feels or seems to be unreliable:

I record the number 1098 in my notebook. Which is the number of times I’ve heard “the Body” mentioned since being at Warren. Because at Warren, the Body is all the rage. As though everyone in the academic world has just now discovered that they are vesseled in precarious, fastly decaying houses of bone and flesh and my god, what material. What a wealth of themes and plot! I still don’t quite understand what it means to write about The Body with title caps but I always nod like I do. Oh yes, The Body, of course. (Awad 62)

In this sequence, it seems like Samantha is disregarding the process of work they pursue at her creative writing workshop, yet in such a manner that the workshop feels almost like a cult – while praising “the Body” and the literal meaning that Samantha takes from it, “decaying houses of bone and flesh.” At the same time, this passage mediates the way wealth is portrayed. If “wealth of themes and plot” is the richness of the work, then Samantha’s work must be poor instead. Then, the wealth of the Body also means the wealth of its author. By using the word “precarious,” Samantha dives into another topic of interest to me. Samantha is a precarious character due to her non-privileged background and mental illness. Yet, she uses the word “precarious” in connection to the academic world, which, as we can see, is somewhat pretentious, elitist, and privileged. This ironic point of view manages to make the reader simultaneously relate and not relate to the main character. On the one hand, Samantha is being ironic, claiming terms and using them against herself or the university surrounding her. On the other hand, she is at the university, sitting at a workshop, pretending to be one of them.

As Theodore Martin states in his paper Contemporary, Inc, the US-based universities “exploded” with new creative writing programs and several mediums like journals or courses, deciding to prove that contemporary literature is a serious academic subject to study (Martin 131). There is no doubt that creative writing and contemporary literature are serious subjects at the university, especially now in the 21st century. Nevertheless, two (or perhaps even more) interpretations of the scene above exist. If Samantha uses irony to describe and devalue the system in which her university’s creative writing workshop works, it becomes unreliable. Suppose the creative writing workshop becomes a cult-like activity. In that case, Samantha is an outsider-like character whom her teacher and her classmates belittle as someone who does not understand what is happening in the class:

Even after a year at Warren, I’m still not totally sure. The school is known for its highly experimental approach to narrative. Hence no windows or clocks in the Cave. Because we cannot, we will not, be slaves to the time-space continuum aka plot. And yet she knows I’m late. (Awad 58)

The “she” in the sentence represents the workshop teacher, Fosco, who does not trust Samantha. We cannot be sure whether it is because she is poor, does not find her talented, or simply because she is a different kind of “weird” than Bunnies, whom Fosco likes. Nonetheless, Fosco is the main person who disregards Samantha and whom Samantha does not understand or relate to:

When I observe Fosco in her iridescent smock that calls to mind New Age priestesses, her hands performing vaguely gynecological gestures over stories that I’m certain she’s just now speed-reading for the first time, her rose lips spouting cryptic feedback which she’ll punctuate now and then with her infamously ever pregnant pause, I cannot be one of them. (Awad 59)

Fosco is the type of teacher who is the heroine at the university, an ideal teacher that everyone looks up to. Samantha does not want to fall into this charade, into the game that Fosco and the university play with her. However, she is unsure about how things work at the university; she does not understand Fosco and her teaching. It could be said that Samantha is lost at Warren, at the university, at an institution that is supposed to be her safe space. Judith Butler, in Precarity Talk, discusses the way the university should work: “one of the most basic presuppositions of democracy, namely, that political and public institutions are bound to represent the people, and to do so in ways that establish equality as a presupposition of social and political existence” (Puar 168). This democratic notion of equality does not seem to fit Samantha’s experience – and perhaps it does not fit anyone’s experience unless you are a privileged student. Warren does not represent people in general; it does not provide equality. Instead, it provides a closeted space: “Workshop is held in what is called the Cave, but is really just a black-box theater in the basement of the Narrative Arts Center. No visible doors, no windows, and of course, no clocks. Only dark, damp walls that evoke the womb” (Awad 57). This space is singular, as is the experience of wealthy, privileged students like Bunnies. This elitist space then, in a way, segregates the privileged from the non-privileged, even though the university should put a roof above its students’ heads equally. Perhaps it is as Harney and Moten state:

The university regulates certain kinds of theoretical and empirical, intellectual and sensual, study; the prison regulates mobility; the hospital regulates health; the state, of which these other institutions are apparatuses, regulates sociality, in general, by imposing the individuation it implies. (Harney and Moten 2)

By regulating the sociality, the individuality can be improved. However, Warren regulates sociality by pushing individuals to be on their own, not to help them but to punish them for their non-privilege or precariousness. Samantha is the one who is being pushed away by Fosco and the way her classes look and feel. Fosco only supports this by pushing her further by disregarding her presence as a student and instead focusing on Bunnies. At the same time, knowing that Samantha’s worldview and perspective are biased due to her mental illness, we could question the way she describes the classroom and Fosco herself. Even later in the book, there are passages containing the killing of rabbits and creating men from them as a metaphor for sacrificing something, thus creating a story’s first draft. However, these are only part of Samantha’s imagination. So, how can we even trust her judgment?

Indeed, what Mona Awad did with her contemporary novel is simply brilliant. The author created an unreliable narrator who is not in her right state of mind but made her criticize the university and the system she is attending and participating in. One interpretation might be that the author purposefully chose to pick such a precarious subject like Samantha simply to see the way the reader experiences the unevenness and unfairness of the university through someone who is considered to be the “outsider of the society” due to her being mentally ill and poor. This contrast between rich and poor, outsider and insider, plays a pivotal role in the novel. Bunny does not simply provide a satirical view of the Ivy League schools; it does not simply provide a critique of the university system. It mediates all that through a narrator one has a hard time relating to, yet, in a sense, relates to completely. One cannot know or understand what is genuinely Samantha’s point of view, her intentions, or her stance on certain things. However, one can see how the university mishandles her and her situation. Even as an unreliable narrator, the reader ends up sympathizing with Samantha because of the unfairness she is met with.


Awad, Mona. Bunny. Viking, 2019.

Hansen, Per Krogh. “Reconsidering the Unreliable Narrator.” Semiotica, vol. 165, no. 165, 2007, pp. 227–46.

Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. the university: last words. 2020.

Martin, Theodore. “Contemporary, Inc.” Representations, vol. 142, no. 1, Spring 2018, pp. 124-144.

Puar, Jasbir, ed. “Precarity Talk: A Virtual Roundtable with Lauren Berlant, Judith Butler, Bojana Cvejić, Isabell Lorey, Jasbir Puar, and Ana Vujanović.” TDR: The Drama Review 56.4 (Winter 2012), pp. 163-77.

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