Essay about Henry James' The Turn of the Screw

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Henry James' The Turn of the Screw

Peter G. Beidler informs us that there have been “hundreds” of analyses of Henry James’ spine-tingling novella, The Turn of the Screw (189). Norman Macleod suggests that James himself seems to be “an author intent on establishing a text that cannot be interpreted in a definite way” (Qtd in Beidler 198). Yet, the vast majority of analyses of The Turn of the Screw seem to revolve around two sub-themes: the reality of the ghosts and the death of Miles both of which are used to answer the question of the governess’s mental stability: is she a hero or a deranged lunatic? As Beidler points out, “It is an amazingly fine creepy, scary, soul-shuddering ghost story or, alternatively, it is an amazingly fine
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In other words, knowing that the events of The Turn of the Screw are given us from the perspective of human memory, which is fallible, is as important as the events unfolding within the story itself. This paper will argue that what we are told is from the perspective of the governess’s memory; subsequently, the events and information we are given become fallible, and suspect; therefore, the sanity and subsequent culpability of the governess cannot be proven from the text.

Note how Douglas introduces the manuscript from the governess: “It is in old faded ink and in the most beautiful hand” (James 24, italics added). No doubt, the penmanship of the governess was once vivid and clear; but, age has a natural tendency to cause that which is vivid to fade and become illegible. Referring first to his knowing the governess and second to the experience itself, Douglas tells us, “It was long ago, and this episode was long before” (James 24). The narrator in the prologue declares, “Let me say here distinctly, to have done with it, that this narrative, from an exact transcript of my own made much later, is what I shall presently give” (James 26). From these two statements, We see at least two people involved with the manuscript itself: the governess and the narrator of the prologue. We also see that a significant, though undisclosed and undetermined, period of time has passed since the original occurance of the events portrayed in the narrative. It is a common
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