Essay on The Turn of the Screw

Essay on The Turn of the Screw

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Love Between the Classes: An Analysis of Social Status Violation in The Turn of the Screw
A Marxist reading of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James brings to light how social status
differences and above all how the violation of these distinctions affect the story. The relationship
between the governess and Miles is a clear example of this kind of transgression. As an unnamed
character, the governess has an indefinite social status. She is neither an upper-class lady nor a
simple servant. Moreover, in the Victorian context of the story, she is, as Millicent Bell writes, a
“tabooed woman” (“Class” 95). Her role is to bring up and take care of the children without
allowing herself to be a sexually active woman. As for Miles, he represents the idealised absent
upper-class Master, to whom the governess feels attracted in Harley Street. However, the child is
also associated with the socially and sexually transgressive Peter Quint and comes to symbolise the
forbidden desire of the governess to marry her employer. The relationship between the governess
and Miles demonstrates the tension between the duty of a professional and honourable governess
and the desire of becoming an upper-class woman with a sexually active life. As an analysis of the
scenes in which the governess and Miles are alone will show, this tension results in the governess’s
violation of social status differences as she engages in a sexual relationship with Miles.
A governess in the Victorian period was faced with conflicting demands. Bell argues that a
governess “had to be a lady to carry her role but was surely not ladylike in working for her living
and no social equal of leisured ladies” (“Class” 94). In The Turn of the Screw, the governess clearly
s...


... middle of paper ...


...rn of the Screw “clearly resists
historical interpretation, which would fill in [the] blanks with knowledge of social group” (335).
Yet, the present analysis of the relationship between Miles and the governess precisely shows the
relevance of a historical and social reading of the story. Placing the governess’s narration into a
socio-historic context reveals the conflict between her own desires and the demands she faces in her
profession. It also provides a background for understanding Miles’s ambivalent character, as he is
both representing the upper-class Master and associated with the social and sexual transgressions of
Peter Quint. Finally, awareness of Victorian practices of sexual initiation allows readers to trace the
development of the relationship between Miles and the governess as their roles transform from
pupil and teacher to lover and mistress.

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