Essay about Deconstructing Henry James' The Turn of the Screw

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Deconstructing Henry James's The Turn of the Screw



To those readers uninitiated to the infinite guises of critical literary theory, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw might be interpreted as a textbook case of an anxiety-ridden Governess fleeing an unpromising reality and running right into the vaporous arms of her imaginary ghosts. But to the seriously literate, the text is more than the story does or does not tell; it can be read in light of many - not just one - literary theories.


Modern in the sense that ambiguity seems to be the text's organizing principle (a conventional, formalist reading), the text also contains numerous binary oppositions that structuralists might point out as defining
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Derrida would scoff at the implied hierarchy of the terms in their given order because the supreme position of "innocence" suggests that it is desirable to "depravity." However, when considering innocence, the trace of depravity is brought forward immediately by its absence, entwining the concepts. At the beginning of the story, the Governess agrees to govern Bly alone, perceiving herself (and passing along her self-assessment to the reader) as an innocent martyr.


Later, the Governess continues to regard herself as innocent, especially when compared to the manufactured specter of Miss Jessel, a lady who dresses in black (immediately raising a question of respectability) and has "fixed" Flora with what the Governess imagines as "with a kind of fury of intention." This description of the ghost has the self-described effect of "making" Mrs. Gross "turn pale" (31). But as the Governess pimps Mrs. Grose for more evidence of Miss Jessel's "infamous" behavior, she is in effect raising the level of anxiety in her own head and ends up infecting Flora and Miles in the process. By the time the drama burns itself out, the person whom we assumed was innocent is not; the Governess has manufactured an estate of ghostly misery out of what seems like nothing more than the sad, vague misfortunes of dead servants.


The Governess is depraved and her obsession pulls the children right into the fray.


Conversely, the alleged
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