His Face All Blood Orange: On the Unreliable Narrator of “His Face All Red”

“I can no longer sleep.

I have dreams.

His legs limp.

His face all red.

And twice I have woken 

and seen my brother

digging.

Is this guilt?

Or is this my brother, whole, not a double?

And if so…

Why won’t he turn to look at me?”

“His Face All Red”, a comic by Emily Carroll, follows the story of a man who murders his brother in the woods near their town, only to have him return alive and apparently unscathed three days later. The story is ambiguous about whether the “man” who returns truly is his brother, or if he is somehow connected to the mysterious beast who, up until recently, had been attacking the town’s livestock; but what is equally ambiguous is whether the protagonist himself is altogether trustworthy. The way the main character is portrayed throughout the story implies that he may be an unreliable narrator, and whether or not the reader decides to trust him shapes their interpretation of the events that follow.

From the beginning of the comic, the protagonist, who remains unnamed along with the rest of the characters, is portrayed as an outsider. In social settings he is always shown sitting off to the side by himself while his brother mingles, and he is never depicted with friends or companions of his own. When he first volunteers to hunt down the beast that has been threatening the village, the townspeople all laugh until his brother offers to go with him. It is never specified why the townspeople treat him this way, but it is clear that he does not hold their respect. The protagonist’s social isolation and probable low social status within his small village communicates that there may be something “off” about him that causes others to distance themselves.

Another hint is the paranoia the protagonist displays both before and after murdering his brother. When the pair first enters the forest to kill the beast, our main character describes passing a tree “with leaves that looked like ladies’ hands” and a stream “that sounded like dogs growling”, which his brother dismisses as simply a “common oak” and a “babbling brook”, respectively. The fact that he perceives these things as somehow vaguely threatening despite having lived next to this forest his whole life is strange to say the least – and quite telling of the protagonist’s mental state, not to mention the fact that he goes on to murder his brother without a second thought (and without changing his facial expression).

After he murders and disposes of his brother he claims that he “feared another attack”, which comes across as odd since his brother had already killed what he thought was the beast, and he himself had just killed his brother. Who does he think is going to attack him? At that point his brother had not returned from the woods, so it is unreasonable to assume that he’s afraid of his brother retaliating. These demonstrations of paranoia paints the protagonist as someone whose perceptions of things may not be entirely accurate.

Finally the twist ending – the main character finds that his brother’s body is still in the hole where he dumped it despite his brother having returned to the village safe and sound. This forces the reader to decide: is the protagonist crazy, or are there supernatural forces at work? It’s entirely possible that the “brother” the protagonist sees return to town is a manifestation of his own guilt over killing his brother in cold blood. Seeing that he never really interacted with the people around him all that often to begin with, it doesn’t seem implausible that he is imagining these events, where the townspeople rejoice at the return of his brother from the presumed grave, as a coping mechanism, and that his fantasy remains unchecked because of his very limited social interactions. Or, alternatively, he may never have killed his brother at all, and he only imagined that he did because of the intense jealousy he feels for him: the fact that his brother’s “corpse” appears to move at the end of the comic may be alluding to it being another one of his nightmarish perceptions of what is in actuality something commonplace. Either way, the comic makes a solid case for an unreliable narrator, which makes for a thought-provoking reading experience.

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