The Shifting Narratee in The Turn of the Screw

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The Shifting Narratee in The Turn of the Screw

In the essay "Introduction to the Study of the Narratee," Gerald Prince discusses the interpretative value of thinking about to whom a narrative is addressed. First, he establishes what a "zero-degree narratee" (or possessor of a minimum number of specific narratee characteristics identified by Prince) is and is not: A narratee is not the actual reader, the implied reader, or the ideal reader. The narratee is beholden to the narrator, because, "Without the assistance of the narrator, without his explanations and the information supplied by him, the narratee is able neither to interpret the value of an action or to grasp its repercussions" (Prince 11). With this definition in mind, it is interesting to think about the various narratees who, like ghosts, loiter around until they are needed to "constitute a relay between the narrator and the reader" for the multiple narrative voices that present the Governess's tale.

Establishing the identity of this novel's narratees is problematic because of the cryptic history of the text's texts. We must differentiate between The Turn of the Screw as text and its fictive internal texts that are comprised of 1) The Governess's original, hand-written narrative and 2) the "I" narrator's prologue and his self-described "exact transcription" of the Governess's original.

It seems necessary to decide whether each of the voices (Douglas's through "I," "I" himself, and the Governess's memoir) has its own narratee, but in a brief analysis such as this, it becomes overly-complicated to then superimpose a Master-narratee who mediates for us the novel as a whole. For now, we will guess who might be the intended ...

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...nderstanding (especially since the real readers cannot provide it) of her motives and actions; she is the only one who can begin to understand her reactions and she is the only one who really did or did not see ghosts.

The complexity of this little novel, its multiple frames that deliberately distance the primary story from the eyes of the real reader, these elements are precisely why determining the identity of the narratees is difficult, and might explain why readers feel so displaced when they reach the novel's end. Taking the time to identify the narratees might be one way to create (in league with James) a comprehendible text.

Works Cited

Prince, Gerald. "Introduction to the Study of the Narratee." Reader Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism. Ed. Jane P. Tompkins. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1980. 7-24.
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