In The Waterworks, how does questioning the reliability of the narrator effect our interpretation of the evil Sartorius or the moral of the story?
I have been reading The Waterworks for uni and noticed that Doctorow often causes the reader to question the credibility of the narrator, and I was wondering how this would influence our interpretation of Sartorius and the story's moral as McIlvaine describes him as evil.
Since this question in under the purview of literary criticism and since there are many branches of criticism, there may certainly be at least several ways to approach the answer to your question. I'll offer an attempt at the answer from the approach of textual analysis. eNotes resources state that Doctorow was interested in "narrative experimentation" and thus makes the motives and perspective of the narrator questionable and dubious. However, Doctorow does include textual evidence indicating that despite the narrator's personal quirks and questionable perspectives he is reliable as a narrator and as such is giving an authentic assessment of Dr. Sartorius' nature and character and of the story's moral.
The major textual clue to this reliability is the narrator's profession. McIlvaine is an editor, which implies that first he was a top-notch reporter who excelled and advanced to the position of editor. There are at least two inferences embedded in this circumstance. The first is that despite personal traits, he is an objective observer and reporter. The second is that this objectivity is deeply ingrained in his psyche after years of adhering to objectivity personally and then enforcing objectivity upon his staff. This constitutes a compellingly strong cause for accepting McIlvaine's narratorial reliability even while recognizing his dubious personal traits and credibility, thus confirming the interpretation of the moral and of Sartorius as evil.