Ambiguity: Is The Turn Of The Screw Based On A True Story Or Is It A Tale Of Insanity?

1775 words - 8 pages

ENC 1102
02 December 2010
Ambiguity: Is The Turn of The Screw based on a true story or is it a tale of insanity?
The ambiguous writing style used by Henry James in The Turn of The Screw leaves the story open to the interpretation of the individual reader. I will show how this ambiguous writing style does not lead the reader to any specific interpretation, but it is actually used by James to deliberately confuse the reader and foster an atmosphere of uncertainty. This purposeful lack of facts by James throughout the story makes the reader draw his own conclusions about what actually takes place.
Many critics have analyzed The Turn of The Screw and most of them have come to the same ...view middle of the document...

James starts with a captivating but ambiguous beginning which draws the reader in and foretells a tale of “delicious” dreadfulness (23). The tale opens with an unnamed narrator attending a house party on Christmas Eve at which ghost stories are being told. All of the guests agree that stories in which ghosts visit children are especially eerie, and an older guest named Douglas indicates that he has access to a story in which a ghost visits two children. In the second paragraph of the story, Douglas says, "If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what you say to two children (James 22)?"
Everyone wants to hear the story. The reader also shares in the eagerness of the guests to be frightened; to be thrilled by the horror they are going to experience. Upon seeing Douglas' anguish at the thought of the tale he is about to tell, and its "dreadful - dreadfulness"(James 23), one of the female guests actually cries, "Oh how delicious!"(James 23). The story he is going to tell was written many years earlier by a governess, who also was the narrator, who has been dead for twenty years. She was once his sister's governess so Douglas had firsthand knowledge of the story.
As we move on through the book we come to the meeting of the governess, who is not actually the governess at this point as she has not yet accepted the job being offered by the gentleman on Harley Street. He is a rich, attractive bachelor who has taken on the responsibility of seeing to the education of his orphaned niece and nephew, who live at his remote country house, Bly. The location is isolated and lonely, and the gentleman has a strange stipulation that she must deal with any problems on her own and she is never to communicate with him about any matter. James leaves the reader with the following questions; why would this gentleman have such a strange request? What is going on at this isolated country estate that he does not wish to have any part of? This lack of explanation leaves the reader free to guess what the motives of the employer might be. Also to wonder why a woman such as the governess would accept such a strange task, does she have a secret desire for the employer or is she truly in just for the job?
The next scenario of an ambiguous nature which I will discuss is when the governess receives a letter from her employer; this letter contains another letter which is from the headmaster of the school at which the employer’s nephew Miles is attending. The letter states that Miles will not be allowed to return to school when the summer break is over and does not go into any further details as to the nature of the offense which has caused his banishment.
The governess goes to Mrs. Grose, a servant who is the acting governess because the last governess Miss Jessel died unexpectedly. Mrs. Grose seems overly glad to see the new governess and quickly becomes her companion and confidante. The governess asks Mrs. Grose if she has known Miles to...

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