Henry James's The Move of the Screw: Horror's finest work of Ambiguity
Classically in many works of books, especially in horror, one expects to find clear-cut heroes and villains, described by the ageless juxtaposition of good and evil. Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, performs into this commonality initially. Ambiguity is perhaps this novella's most dominant rhetorical strategy, blurring lines with the actions of the characters, as well as in the dialect. James's twists on characterization, composition, and framing of his writing, leads the audience to ponder on who is very on each area of the boundary of good and evil as they dive deeper in to the novella. The establishment of the unreliable narrator in conjunction with the ambiguous framing and history manipulation triggers the audience to question the type of evil in the novella.
The Turn of the Screw's character types contain the universal surface elements of a majority of other ghost reports, including the characterization of the heroine and the villain. The unnamed governess, the principal narrator, is inducted as the seeming good in the storyline. James, however, creates into her characterization, doubtful behavior. Referred to as a 20-yr old, intelligent, captivating individual to the audience, there are two opposing ways of viewing her persona - either as a normal, coherent heroine or an crazy anti-heroine. The repressed crazy mind-set is the most popular interpretation of the character for most visitors of the ghost tale. Edmund Wilson, an influential literary critic provided this psychological perspective in his 1939 article "The Ambiguity of Henry Adam. " Within the article, Wilson carefully lays out a multitude of examples where he sees signals of Freudian symbolism in the story; the Governess stands out as a "neurotic, sexually repressed female whose hidden wants drive her mad" (Shmoop: Governess). " Wilson explores more into this notion of how the Governess is revealing to the storyplot; "Observe that there is certainly never any proof that anybody but the governess recognizes the spirits. She thinks that the children see them but there may be never any evidence that they are doing. The housekeeper insists that she does not see them; it is apparently the governess who frightens them. " (Wilson 170) Alternatively, the presumed and traditional way of reading the novella has the Governess maintain full control of her state of mind, as well as getting the supernatural actually happen in reality. This portrayal of the Governess places her in the role of the traditional heroine and assumes that she really has good motives and is merely shopping for the children. This view also assumes that Mls and Flora are problematic children and are actually, connected to the apparitions of Peter Quint and Neglect Jessel.
The interpretation that the Governess is a traditional heroine is counteracted in lots of ways in her characterization, like the fairly apparent obsession with the children, "Nonetheless it was a comfort that there may be no uneasiness in a connexion with anything so beatific as the radiant image of my little girl, the eyesight of whose angelic beauty acquired probably more" (Wayne 124). The Governess acknowledging Flora as "my little girl, " as she is just meeting the children, implies an obsession helping the interpretation that the governess is an anti-heroine. Yet taking a look at the character in a functional sense that she is a traditional heroine, the governess is doing her job, shopping for Mls and Flora and combats wicked apparitions of Peter Quint and Neglect Jessel. The Governess revealing us that Miss Jessel is bad, "Another person - this time around; but a shape of quite as unmistakable horror and evil: a female in dark-colored, pale and dreadful - with this air also, and such a face! - on the far side of the lake. I had been there with the child - calm for the hour; and amid it she emerged. " (James 156) Just objectively taking a look at the text would reveal that the spirits are malevolent causes in the story. While on the far side of the range, Edmund convincing uses the example of the final field where in fact the governess confronts Kilometers about the ghosts, "From her perspective, we see that he will need to have considered her 'There, there!' as an answer to his own 'Where?' She has finally made him believe that either that he has actually seen something or that he's on the idea of discovering something. He gives 'the cry of an creature hurled over an abyss'. She's virtually frightened him to loss of life. " (Wilson 172). The conflict between her actual narration of the story and her actions and dialogue noticed by audience creates the two-sided characterization of the Governess that exudes the ambiguity of the real good and evil of the novella.
The governess is not the sole character that is manipulated by the hands of Henry Wayne to create ambiguity. The children of the Bly household, Kilometers and Flora, have also been involved on where they land on the good and evil spectrum. Progressively throughout the storyplot, the children changeover from special and innocent to being possessed and evil as defined by the governess. The governess primarily adored the children (obsessively perhaps), until their innocence was "corrupted" by the spirits of Quint and Pass up Jessel. This brings the question to the audience: will be the children evil through supernatural occurrences, or if the kids are just being children. Flora, initially of the governess, had been described as angelic, beautiful, well mannered, perfect litttle lady, until much later in to the plot where the governess believes she's been speaking with Pass up Jessel, the governess accusing and her she retorts, "Take me away - oh take me away from her!' 'From me?' I panted. 'From you - from you!' she cried The wretched child got spoken just as if she possessed got from some outside source each of her stabbing little words 'Of course I've lost you: I've interfered, and you've seen, under her dictationI've done my best, but I've lost you. Good-bye. '" (James 240). The governess herself explains Flora in this passage to be always a "wretched child, " insinuating that she actually is the evil in the storyline. Mls as well is launched by Mrs. Grose as good, "beautiful" child, "Oh miss, most remarkable. If you think well of the one!'" (Wayne 125) even if somewhat of any troublemaker.
" I presented [Mrs. Grose] tighter. 'You like them with the soul to be naughty?' Then, keeping tempo with her answer, 'So must i!' I eagerly presented. 'But not to the degree to contaminate - ' 'To contaminate?' - my big phrase left her at a loss. I described it. 'To corrupt. 'She stared, taking my interpretation in; but it produced in her an peculiar laugh. "Have you been fearful he'll corrupt you?'" (Adam 130)
The governess's dialogue here actually makes it seem as though Miles is legitimately bad. However, this is assuming that the audience interprets the governess as the classic heroine, and many assume that both children show what's normally considered as normal childish tendencies.
The characterization of the governess and the kids are effectively made ambiguous by how James casings his writing. The highly mental, yet melodramatic narration of the governess keeps the audience to her point of view allowing for some room to experience her lack of control, yet at the same time, the writing itself increases the sense Governess is losing her sanity. We are able to look at where Flora leaves after being accused by the governess, "Take me away - oh take me from her!' 'From me?' I panted. 'From you - from you!' she cried The wretched child possessed spoken exactly as if she had acquired from some exterior source each of her stabbing little words" (Wayne 240). That is a good example where James structures the dialogue in ways where from the governess's perspective that Flora is conspiring with Miss Jessel, and at the same time demonstrating the audience the governess's unreliability as Flora seemingly did nothing wrong. This creates the ambiguity that clouds the audience's idea of good and bad. Another way Adam frames the written text to convey ambiguity is Douglas' praise that the governess "was the most agreeable female I've ever before known in her position;" (Adam 117) shining an optimistic light on the governess and yet frames the situation to the audience in that if she's that agreeable, how can we as an audience, not say that claim by Douglas is biased? This two sided interpretation of the statement is one of the many ways Wayne produces ambiguity through framing. Within the books, the governess' perspective of the children makes it seem to be as if they are really corrupted by evil, but from a broader structure, her actions are shown in a different light, creating the ambiguity of whether or not the Governess is in fact your body of good. Furthermore to James' shape of the characters, the framing of the finishing, suddenly finishing and without real image resolution, gives more to the ambiguity of the placement of the lines between good and bad. Does the ghost just eliminate Miles; performed the governess just wipe out Mls? The endings' framing make it seem to be flawed and unfinished, yet it does precisely what Wayne wants: to carry the audience in the express of ambiguous limbo.
The Move of the Screw, as a Henry James's good article, is uniquely organized to convey ambiguity over benevolence and malevolence. In Donald P. Costello's Modern Language Notes, Costello expresses that there surely is, in reality, a two-part composition in the book. "This double effect of The Move of the Screw is a product of its framework, which is basically a dual one: scenes in which the governess presents the action usually lead to horror; scenes where the governess interprets the action usually cause mystification. " (Costello 313). Costello is essentially telling us that there are parts of the storyplot where in fact the governess "records" to us from her point of view that provides the horror of the "certainty of the spirits", and the other part of the plot's structure where the audience interprets that area of the history. The theme of good versus bad would be by natural means deduced by the reader through interpretation. However the representation of the written text through the governess' point of view issues with the interpretation of the audience, producing the ambiguity. For example, the actual books and perspective of the narrator induces the idea that the governess is good and the horror stems from the children being possessed as well as the ghosts, as the interpretation and observation of the governess make that opposing portrayal of someone getting rid of their mind, having hallucinations of the whole situation. This discrepancy of representation and interpretation create the blurred line of what's truly good and bad.
The creation of illusion and ambiguity are rhetorical strategies that add a unique part to literature, making the audience take it after themselves to examine the story determine what is actually developing. For the Victorian audience that this was written for to the audience reading over a hundred years later, James's usage of ambiguity on the classic theme of good vs. evil. continues to mystify readers today. Choosing the nice and wicked in the storyline stems from the reader's examination of James's characterization, his framing of his text, as well as the framework of the story. But as much as we can review and connect the theme back again to true to life Victorian years, or now, the idea of ambiguity is that it is supposed to stay that way. Whether the governess or the kids are bad or what truly happened in the end, it is up to the audience to decide, and even then, the decisions might differ.
Costello, Donald P. "The Structure of The Switch of the Screw. " Modern Vocabulary Records, vol. 75, no. 4, 1960, pp. 312-321. www. jstor. org/secure/3040418.
James, Henry. The Switch of the Screw as well as other Stories. NY: Oxford UP, 2008. Print out. Oxford World's Classics.
Parkinson, Edward J. , Dr. "The Switch of the Screw-Chapter V - The Effect of Structuralism: 1958-1969. " The Move of the Screw. N. p. , n. d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "The Move of the Screw. " Shmoop. Shmoop School, Inc. , 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
"The Turn of the Screw. " Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n. d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
Wilson, Edmund. "The Ambiguity of Henry James. " Hound and Horn Apr. -May 1934
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