Essay on Archetype Myths in Turn of the Screw

Essay on Archetype Myths in Turn of the Screw

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Archetype Myths in Turn of the Screw

In one surface reading of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, the governess appears to be a victim of circumstance. Some critics however, say that she is not without blame in the turn of events that characterizes the story. They claim that leading to her demise are certain character flaws, such as envy and pride. In categorizing her character as such, this novella resonates several themes found throughout literature. In Northrop Frye’s essay The Archetypes of Literature, Frye suggests that there appears to be a relatively restricted and simple group of formulas in literature. These formulas or converging patterns seem to correlate with the natural cycle. Frye considers criticism that searches for these forms, “a kind of literary anthropology”(Frye,480). In the essay, he identifies the archetype central myth of all literature as the quest-myth. Using his essay on archetypes, The Turn of The Screw, can be read and understood as a quest-myth.

The Turn of The Screw is really two myths in one. The first story would be that of the friends who are gathered on Christmas Eve telling stories. The second story would be the tale of the governess. Frye categorizes myths in phases. The second story can be interpreted in terms of these phases (Frye,483).

Phase one is “the dawn, spring, and birth phase”(Frye,483). In The Turn of the Screw, the story begins with Douglas’s background on the governess. This is the creation of the new story. The governess is young and we learn that she has,“at the age of twenty, on taking service for the first time”,so she is at the beginning of her adult life.(James,25)

Next the story moves on to her narration. She arrives at Bly and is pleasant...


... middle of paper ...


...ch could be interpreted as Miss Jessel, for she is female, evil, and conniving.

There are surely countless other archetypes present in this work aside from the myth quest, however it is interesting to note how similar Frye’s description of the myth quest is to the actual story. Frye’s phases seem to directly follow the story line from the new beginning to the fatal end. The governess perfectly fits the role of the hero on a quest. Finally the tragic vision of the human world is apparent throughout the story. The similarities and presence of these seem to confirm Fry’s theory that these archetypes are a collective dream of humanity, and thus they are innately present in literature.

Bibliography:

Works Cited

Frye, Northrop. “The Archetypes of Literature.” Criticism Twenty Major Statements. Ed. Charles Kaplan. Bedford/St. Martins. 2000. 476-486.

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