The Turn of the Screw - A Look at a Criticism

The Turn of the Screw - A Look at a Criticism

Length: 1127 words (3.2 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓


The Turn of the Screw - A Look at a Criticism

 

There are many different ways to interpret The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. Many critics over the past century have voiced their opinions about the story. Each critical analysis of the story disagrees with the beliefs expressed in another. Robert B. Heilman is a critic who wrote in the mid-twentieth century. He interprets The Turn of the Screw to be a representation of the conflict between good and evil. Heilman's points are clear and obviously well thought out, but there are flaws in his argument that make his interpretation questionable.

 

In his 1948 essay, Robert Heilman explores the suggestion that The Turn of the Screw is a symbolic representation of the conflict between good and evil. Heilman interprets the apparitions of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel as evil forces. He explains that the ghosts only appear to the governess because evil lurks in subtlety before it strikes. It is the duty of the governess to "detect and ward off evil." She must protect the children from the awful ghosts. The governess describes Miles and Flora as beautiful little cherubs whose only fault is their gentleness (James, 18-19). Heilman views the children's beauty as a "symbol of the spiritual perfection of which man is capable." Heilman explains the ghosts' attempts to reach the children by explaining that evil forces will always try to conquer and possess the human soul. Heilman continues to draw from the descriptions of Miles and Flora to support his theories. He points out that the two children are described as having an "angelic beauty" and a "positive fragrance of purity" (James 9, 13). The governess describes them as if they are perfect and beautiful in every way. This repeated vision of beauty, radiance, and innocence parallels the image of Eden. The house at Bly also resembles this image, "I remember the lawn and the bright flowers..." (James 7). The governess makes mention of the "golden sky" and of Flora's "hair of gold," which Heilman believes connects Bly and Flora with these images of golden hues (James 7, 9).

 

Robert Heilman perceives that the ghost of Peter Quint is a direct representation of the serpent that plagues the Garden of Eden. Heilman supports this with the description of Quint found in the text, "His eyes are sharp, strange- awfully; .

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"The Turn of the Screw - A Look at a Criticism." 123HelpMe.com. 19 Nov 2019
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=9300>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Things are Not What they Seem to Be in Henry James’s The Turn of The Screw

- Hidden subjects, the corruption of innocence, gender, and the destructiveness of heroism, can all be argued to be the main theme of The Turn of The Screw but only one can really bring the truest theme out of the story by Henry James. Many argue that there is no theme, or more than one but I believe that Forbidden subjects is truly the source that really captures what the story is all about. We can easily come to this conclusion by looking at the items in the story and piecing them together. For example, the young male child named Miles suddenly gets kicked out of school, but the reason for the expulsion is never uncovered....   [tags: The Turn of The Screw, Henry James]

Research Papers
1615 words (4.6 pages)

Essay about The Shifting Narratee in The Turn of the Screw

- 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 repe...   [tags: James Turn of the Screw Essays]

Research Papers
908 words (2.6 pages)

Essay about Turn Of The Screw By Henry James

- Turn of the Screw by: Henry James After reading 'The Turn of the Screw';, by Henry James, I was left with many unanswered questions. The two main questions are, are the ghosts in the story real, or are they just figments of the narrator's imagination. When I read though the essays of criticism, I took a stand on one particular argument. I took a stand that supports the argument that the ghosts are real. In this story we see many strange things taking place at a house on Harley Street in a town called Bly....   [tags: essays research papers]

Research Papers
1107 words (3.2 pages)

The Nameless Governess in The Turn of the Screw: Hero or Villain? Essay

- Something is amiss in Bly. The nameless Governess has always been a person of interest in literature. She has been analyzed time and time again from a trusting standpoint; taking everything she says at face value. Taken with no thought of deception and that ghosts are real and the Governess’ is attempting to protect Miles, not harm him. Also from a psychological or Freudian perspective indicating she was mentally disturbed and kills Miles. Whether the Governess was simply a confused youth, thrust into a position beyond her ability and is further saddled with the tasks of protecting her two charges with ghosts or a manipulative shrew who means nothing but harm to those around her because her...   [tags: The Turn of the Screw]

Research Papers
1182 words (3.4 pages)

Essay on Sandy Welch's Adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw

- “A literary adaptation creates a new story; it is not the same as the original, but takes on a new life, as indeed do the characters.” (12) Therefore when we are discussing and analysing the adaptation I do not find it necessary to discuss the issue of fidelity which has become a mere tedious discussion. However, as “adaptations are a synergy between the desire for sameness and reproduction on the one hand, and, on the other, the acknowledgement of difference.” (Hayward) I do feel it is essential to compare the sameness and difference Sandy Welch uses in her glossic adaptation compared to the novel as this helps the reader to form an interpretation of the story or message it is trying to ach...   [tags: The Turn of the Screw]

Research Papers
2629 words (7.5 pages)

Essay on The Turn of the Screw

- The Turn of the Screw "I must take my horrid plunge" from the opening line sets the tone of the passage. The novel's gothic form is revealed very early on in the passage. There is a distinctive differentiation between horror and terror derived from the studies of Radcliffe. "Terror" is when one induces to action and "horror" is when one is "powerless" and "freezes" as a result of it. The Governess' horrid plunge is a forced action, as she is powerless to combat the supernatural forces that oppose her....   [tags: Gothic The Turn of the Screw Henry James Essays]

Research Papers
1071 words (3.1 pages)

Sexual Passion in The Turn of the Screw Essay

- Sexual Passion in The Turn of the Screw In a criticism on Henry James’s story The Turn of the Screw, Strother Purdy suggests that large amounts of sexual passion may be assumed to exist underneath the surface of the narrative. Purdy says that under a Freudian interpretation of the story, the sexual element is easily recognized and is used as the whole source of the action. According to this theory, the governess wishes to impress her master because she is in love with him and, therefore, exceeeding her authority with the children....   [tags: Turn of the Screw Essays]

Free Essays
430 words (1.2 pages)

Essay on The Governess in The Turn of the Screw

- One of the most critically discussed works in twentieth-century American literature, The Turn of the Screw has inspired a variety of critical interpretations since its publication in 1898. Until 1934, the book was considered a traditional ghost story. Edmund Wilson, however, soon challenged that view with his assertions that The Turn of the Screw is a psychological study of the unstable governess whose visions of ghosts are merely delusions. Wilson’s essay initiated a critical debate concerning the interpretation of the novel, which continues even today (Poupard 313)....   [tags: The Turn of the Screw Essays]

Research Papers
1116 words (3.2 pages)

Essay on The Freudian Id in The Turn of the Screw

- Henry James was one of America's most brilliant and fascinating writers. He uses language to tap into the reader's subconscious and always has them wanting more. This sensation is no more prevalent than in his thriller The Turn of the Screw. In this intense psychological thriller, the main character releases her own sexual frustration into the illusions of two ghosts that haunt a quiet country manor. The Freudian Id plays out in the fantasies of Peter Quint and Mrs. Jessel and the governess's own repressed feelings overrun her every thought....   [tags: The Turn of the Screw Henry James]

Research Papers
1676 words (4.8 pages)

Protecting Miles and Flora in The Turn of the Screw Essay

- Protecting Miles and Flora in The Turn of the Screw “I saw my service so strongly and simply. I was there to protect and defend the little creatures…” The governess sees it as her duty to protect Miles and Flora. What do they need protection from and how does Henry James illustrate this in his novel “The Turn of the Screw”. Henry James’s ‘Turn of the Screw’ can be interpreted in many different ways. He constructed his novel in order to make allusions to sexual topics, (without stating anything explicitly) madness, ghosts and the Victorian society....   [tags: Henry James The Turn of the Screw Essays]

Research Papers
2235 words (6.4 pages)

Related Searches

.. rather small and very fixed. His mouth's wide, and his lips are thin." Heilman points out that these characteristics are those of a snake. The demonic presence of Quint poisons Bly just as the serpent in the Garden of Eden poisons Adam and Eve's home.

 

The fall of innocence occurs as the seasons change from spring to autumn. On one evening, the governess notes that she "...listened to lash of the rain and the batter of the gusts" (James 60). After the storm, the weather continues to be "damp and grey" (James 65). When the governess and Mrs. Grose find Flora at the lake, Flora is playing with a piece of withered fern (James 67). At this point in the story, the governess is convinced that Flora has run off with Miss Jessel and that Miss Jessel has corrupted Flora. Heilman sees this as not only the change of season's before the end of the year, but as "the end of a cycle: the spring of gay, bright human innocence has given way to the ark autumn - or rather, as we might pun, the dark fall. The decaying foliage suggests the decay of Eden and the fall of Flora and Miles.

 

By the end of the story, Heilman states that the governess "emphasizes Mile's freedom and sorrowfully gives up 'the fiction that I had anything more to teach him.'" He suggests that this is because Miles has eaten from the tree of knowledge. Heilman points out that as the innocence of the children is spoiled, their health deteriorates. However, the story does not end here. The governess still adheres to her duty as protector and savior of the children. Heilman states, "The governess's priestly function is made still more explicit by the fact that she comes ultimately to act as confessor and to use every possible means to bring Miles to confession." In the ending scene, the governess must protect Miles from the evil force. However, when Miles tries to confess his sins, the horrible face of Peter Quint appears at the window. The governess ultimately fails as "Savior" and Miles is lost forever.

 

I find Robert Heilman's essay to be fairly convincing, but it does have its weaknesses. For example, the governess speaks of Miles's charm and angelic nature as a cover-up for the awful deed he has committed at school. Even before she meets him, she believes that Miles is "an injury to others" (James 10). How can Miles represent Adam before his fall if he is already guilty of sin? Also, Heilman states that the governess's duty is to protect Miles from evil. How can she protect him from something that she already believes has overtaken him? The question that the governess asks herself at the end of the story does not support Heilman's notions that the governess is a "savior." She asks, "It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent what then on earth was I?" (James 83). This brings to light the governess's realization that she has been at fault throughout the story. Heilman completely fails to address what the fault of the governess is. He does, however, believe that the governess failed as a Savior because Miles dies without having confessed his sins. As I stated earlier, Heilman suggests that the devil, as Peter Quint, succeeds in taken Miles when he fails to confess. However, the ending quote of the story reads, "...and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped," (James 85). If his little heart is dispossessed, then how is it possible that the devil won? The governess also declares that the monster has lost Miles forever and that she now has him (James 85). How has she failed if Peter Quint has lost Miles forever?

 

Robert B. Heilman's arguments are strong, but I can't fully agree with his interpretation of The Turn of the Screw. His ideas are well thought out, but the text does not always support his theories. Henry James wrote The Turn of the Screw in such an ambiguous manner that it is open to many different interpretations. However, it appears that no single interpretation has the ability to cover every aspect of the story and explain it in a way that is convincing to all.

 

Works Cited

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 24

The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James.
Return to 123HelpMe.com