The Screw By Henry James Essay

The Screw By Henry James Essay

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When one views a literary critic’s work, they often interpret their thoughts in a vacuum. They do not take into account the historical context that influenced their interpretations on whatever they wrote about. Humans, however, do not think in a vacuum. People are consistently bombarded by outside noise, be it literal noises or other mainstream theories. This can be applied to The Turn of the Screw, written by Henry James. As time went on, interpretations of the narrator, the governess, changed drastically. Society’s views on Freud’s psychoanalytic theories also changed during the same span of time. The changing interpretations of psychoanalysis and of the governess in The Turn of the Screw are connected. As society’s views on psychoanalysis have changed over time, so has the readers’ views changed on the governess from the hero of the story to the problem.
Psychoanalysis was created as a possible treatment for hysteria, a disorder that has been around for over 2,500 years. Hippocrates first coined the term in Diseases of Women, written around the 5th century BC. He named it after the Greek word hystera and connected it to the idea of the “wandering womb” (Gilman 26). Plato also links the disease to the uterus, describing it as a “living creature desiring union…[it] travels around the body blocking passages, obstructing breather, and causing diseases” in his book Timaeus, written around 360 BC (25). The belief that it only affected women continued as the list of symptoms grew. They raged wildly, including seizures, anxiety, suffocation, tremors, paralysis, sleeping disorders, sudden movements, depression, amnesia, and mood swings. (Tasca). Initial treatments were also widespread. They often included sexual activity, either mastur...


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...st probably an all-boys school, McCollum views these injuries as homosexual acts. McCollum’s interpretation that Miles is homosexual parallels society’s shift towards addressing multiple sexual identities as natural and acceptable in mainstream society.
As psychoanalytic thinking has progressed over the past century, literary interpretations of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw has progressed along with it. Where they once started as surface-level reviews based on one’s subjective feelings towards the book, they now acknowledge possible connections to Freudian theory, even if said theory does not hold as much weight as it used to. Writers are influenced by their environment, and will interpret what they read based on how they have learned to think. Psychoanalysis has changed how humans interpret thought, even if it is just thoughts towards a novella written in 1898.

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