The Role of Sexuality in Turn of the Screw

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Henry James's Turn of the Screw was written in a time when open sexuality was looked down upon. On the surface, the story is simply about a governess taking care of two children who are haunted by two ghosts. However, the subtext of the story is about the governess focusing on the children's innocence, and the governess trying to find her own sexual identity. Priscilla L. Walton wrote a gender criticism themed essay about the Turn of the Screw, which retells certain parts of the story and touches on the significance they provide for the sexually explicit theme. Walton's essay is accurate because James purposely put an undertone of sexuality and identity confusion in the Turn of the Screw.

The governess made it clear that she was longing for a romance or a mate. One day she was walking around thinking about the master of Bly and she saw Peter Quint on top of a tower. James made sure to name the type of tower Quint was standing on- crenelated structures. These were structures on top of castle walls meant to protect the inhabitants. It's ironic that Quint was standing on the exact thing meat to protect, as if to say it would not stop him from defiling Miles.

The governess said that Quint's figure was, “very erect, as it struck me” (pp.40-41). The governess constantly made sexual innuendos that led the readers to believe she was sexually frustrated, or at least had sex on her mind a lot. The governess mentions Quint's long gaze at her and said she stared just as hard back at him. In the time this story was written, men and women were not equal. The governess's strong will defied the tradition role of women to be the prey, and rather yet put her on Quint's level of authority.

Miss Jessel and Peter Quint kept appearing to the gove...

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...e female roles she was witnessed in her life, and she reverts back to being an innocent little girl by running back to Mrs. Grose for security.

After Flora leaves her, the governess focuses all her attention on Miles. The reader already has some knowledge upfront that Miles has some negative quality to him, so his sexually seems less of a secret than Flora's. He was sent home from school for saying inappropriate things to boys that he likes. There is a strong possibility that Quint taught him about homosexuality in the past. However, Miles is also seen in a heterosexual light by the governess. “We continued silent while the maid was with us- as silent, it whimsically occurred to me, as some young couple who, on their wedding journey, at the in, feel shy in the presence of the waiter. He turned round only when the waiter had left us. 'Well- so we're alone!'” (p.113).

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