Contradiction in The Turn of the Screw by Henry James Essay

Contradiction in The Turn of the Screw by Henry James Essay

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The Turn of the Screw, a ghost story novella by Henry James, was first published in 1898. It is described as a masterpiece in storytelling, and because of how it creates an atmosphere of terror; it is considered a central text in the horror genre. The story is about a guest named Douglas reading to other guests a story from a written record. An unknown narrator remembers some friends gathering at an old house to listen to one another’s ghost stories, and then introduces Douglas, who tells them about a story that involves two children and a governess. As Douglas reads the story, the point of view shifts and the story is narrated by a different character. It is precisely his sister’s governess who narrates her mysterious experience in which she claims she has a ghost encounter.
The manipulation of point of view through the narrators is what makes this novella a masterpiece; James’s use of point of view not only alters the scheme of a traditional ghost story but also connotes an effort to involve the reader in the story in order to question the narrator’s reliability. As said above, a first narrator introduces the reader to the story as well as explains the nature of it through a character named Douglas, but it is the presence of a second narrator what establishes a difficulty to the reader. The interior voice of the manuscript, so to speak, embodied in the figure of the governess, makes problematically decide whether the apparitions are real or mere delusions. This is because the governess' point of view does not provide conclusive evidence about her experience; hence, the conflict remains a mystery and open to the interpretation of the reader.
Throughout the story two first-person narrators can be distinguished: an unknown narrato...


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...critics, such as Edmund Wilson and Charles Thomas Samuels, have attributed to the term ambiguity. Ward highlights the fact that “ambiguity is an essentially honorific term, implying complexity, richness of meaning and levels of significance” (39). According to Ward, “they (Wilson and Samuels) believe that when a work is ambiguous either the author is unsure of what he wants to say or he is saying to contradictory things at the same time” (Ibid). Nevertheless, in The Turn of the Screw, ambiguity does not have relationship to what Wilson and Samuels claim to be the nature of an “ambiguous” work, but rather the opposite. It is precisely the evident contradiction what allows an epistemological ambiguity, in which “no one is really sure of what is happening and the narrators are of dubious reliability” (58).



Works Cited

“The Ambiguities of Henry James” by J.A. Ward

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