Ambiguity In the Turn of the Screw; Creating Simultaneous Meaning Essay

Ambiguity In the Turn of the Screw; Creating Simultaneous Meaning Essay

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At the time of its publication “The Turn of the Screw” was hailed as “a deliberate, powerful, and horribly successful study of the magic of evil” (book 170). It was, in essence, the perfect ghost story. In more recent years, critics have moved away from simply considering the “horror” of the tale. Instead, criticism has focused on the meaning or interpretation of the text. Overall, the accumulation of criticism can be classified into two distinct camps of interpretation. The first of these camps reads the text at face value as a ghost story in the Gothic tradition. The governess represents events accurately and the reader interprets them based on a belief that she is reliable. The ghosts are real. The second camp considers subtleties in the text and structure of the story and comes to the conclusion that the governess is not a reliable narrator. Instead, she hallucinates the ghosts.
As critics bat these two different readings back and forth some have come to the conclusion that Henry James wrote with the intention that the story could have two simultaneous readings. According to Cook and Corrigan, “The governess-narrator uses language to confirm the reality of what she thinks she sees, and thus she makes her suspicions “real” not only to herself but to the rest of her audience” (56). The text is what the reader (and the other characters in the novel) rely on in order to make sense of the tale. Her telling relies on the gothic elements and the reality of the ghosts. In her telling, there exist ambiguities that create suspicion of her to accurately relate the events. In this way, the novel supports simultaneous interpretations. James is able to create “cracks in the façade of her account, without ever destroying its cre...


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...nary." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Essays in Criticism. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: W.W. Norton, 1966. Print.
Rust, Richard Dilworth. "Liminality in The Turn of the Screw." Studies in Short Fiction 25.4 (1988): 441. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Mar. 2014.
Sawyer, Richard. "`What's Your Title?'--The Turn of the Screw." Studies in Short Fiction 30.1 (1993): 53. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Feb. 2014.
Taylor, Michael J.H. "A Note on the First Narrator of "Turn of the Screw"" American Literature 53.4 (1982): 717-22. JSTOR. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.
Van Peer, Willie, and Ewout Van Der Knaap. "(In)compatible Interpretations? Contesting Readings of "The Turn of the Screw"" MLN Vol. 110.No. 4 (1995): 692-710. JSTOR. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

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