Love in Henry James' Turn of the Screw

1791 Words4 Pages

To Insanity in Pursuit of Love.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is usually read as a ghost story in which the central character, the governess, tries to save the souls of two children possessed by evil. However, the short-story can be also analyzed from many different perspectives, as we come upon a number of hints that lead to various understanding of certain scenes. One of the possible interpretations is the psychoanalytical one, in which we interpret the events either from the point of view of the governess or from the perspective of the two children. I will concentrate on the problem of the governess who, restricted by her own problems and moral dilemmas, projects her fears on her pupils and in this way harms the children. What causes her moral corruption and gradual maddening lies deep in her psyche. Both the Victorian upbringing and the social isolation of a poor village tell her to restrict her sexual desires evoked by the romance reading. The result is tragic. The governess becomes mad and the children psychologically destabilized and scared of the adults. The story ends with the governess strangling the boy in a hysteric fit. The Turn of the Screw is a very popular work of literature, with reach history of critical interpretations where not much can be added, therefore my essay is mostly based on The Turn of the Screw. A History of Its Critical Interpretations 1898 – 1979 by Edward J. Parkinson.

In the Victorian society, love, sex and desire were the unspeakable subjects, especially for a young, unmarried woman in care of two young children. The governess herself can not imagine thinking about or mentioning her sexual needs. Her desire for love is so strong that she immediately falls in love with the man she hardly...

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... was with a man. Although the story is a ghost story first of all, it is also a comment on the Victorian society, its cruelty, "destructive pressures" and "restrictive code of behavior," that led to many tragedies. The ghost motive is unquestionably the prevailing one and can be understood in the realistic as well as the symbolic way. As symbols, the ghosts stand for the restrained love and the corrupted psyche of the woman getting mad, who cannot control her sexual desires. The ghosts themselves are not scarier than the condition of the mind of the woman who in pursuit of love becomes insane.

Works Cited

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. London: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.

Parkinson, Edward J. The Turn of the Screw A History of Its Critical Interpretations 1898 – 1979. 6 April 2006

The Norton American Anthology. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1995.

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