Essay on Terror in The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Essay on Terror in The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw, a ghost story novella by Henry James, was first published in 1898. It is described as a masterpiece in storytelling, and because of how it creates an atmosphere of terror; it is considered a central text in the horror genre. The story is about a guest named Douglas reading to other guests a story from a written record. An unknown narrator remembers some friends gathering at an old house to listen to one another’s ghost stories, and then introduces Douglas, who tells them about a story that involves two children and a governess. As Douglas reads the story, the point of view shifts and the story is narrated by a different character. It is precisely his sister’s governess who narrates her mysterious experience, in which she claims she has a ghost encounter.
Because of the manipulation of point of view through the narrators, this novella is considered a masterpiece. Henry James’s use of point of view not only is an effort to involve the reader in the story in order for the reader to question the narrator’s reliability but also alters the structure of a traditional ghost story. As said above, a first narrator introduces the reader to the story as well as explains the origin of the story through a character named Douglas. Then, a second narrator is introduced; the interior voice of the manuscript, so to speak, embodied in the figure of the governess, who makes problematically decide whether the apparitions are real or mere delusions. This is because the governess' point of view does not provide conclusive evidence about her experience; hence, the conflict remains a mystery and open to the interpretation of the reader.
Throughout the story, two first-person narrators can be distinguished: an unknown narrator and th...


... middle of paper ...


...er words, James entrusts the reader with the responsibility of finishing the work.
The Turn of the Screw still makes us question whether or not the governess is telling the truth, whether or not ghosts really exist. While the absence of a “correct” reading can be challenging, it is important to realize that a work of literature does not necessarily deal with an absolute interpretation. After all, as J.A. Ward states, “the role of the artist is to see multiplicity, not to impose unit” (60).




Works Cited
JAMES, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Ibiblio ebooks. Web. March 28th. 2014. PDF.
JONES, Alexander E. “Point of View in the Turn of the Screw”. Modern Language
Association. Vol. 74, No. 1. 1959. pp. 112-122. PDF.
WARD, J. A. “The Ambiguities of Henry James”. The Sewanee Review. Vol. 83, No. 1
Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975, pp. 39-60. PDF.

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