Can someone please explain the ending of The Turn of the Screw? : books
“The Turn of the Screw” has served as irresistible grist for those critics Yes, you' re free to shift constantly from one interpretation to the next, and yet, Good may triumph in the end, and the saved soul may find its way to the. Critics have characterized language in The Turn of the Screw as . central clues to the meaning James gives to subjectivity in the governess's relationship with. I've been trying to wrap my head around the ending for days, and I However, Turn of the Screw is a classic example of an unreliable narrator. been sexually abused by the servants; perhaps because their relationship with.
The glass as frame brings something to view, gives it definition, while it inhibits unity, the merge loss of identity. The governess meets Quint the third time on the stairway just before dawn. There is no frame—no barrier, no distinction. Each time they have met they have exchanged a mutual challenging stare; this time she meets him totally and denies him—subdues and absorbs him. Absence of the frame means the loss of differentiation, of mediation, means merge of identity.
The governess thinks that she triumphs—but she is possessed now. Without a frame a painting, say, is not prohibited from integrating into the rest, into what is not-painting. Art has been taken to represent life, to reproduce it, to interpret it, to transcend it, to attempt and fail to meet it, to miss it; but it is always conceptualized in reference to it.
When art is not set off by a literal frame, as in music where time inheres but space more problematically, or as in the novel, as Bakhtin, Lukacs, Ortega y Gasset, and others define it as a form that opens onto life, then the difference dims and the antagonism or community of life and art is harder to discern. We can put the question to test immediately. The story in our hands is a prodigious little work of art, and it is set into a frame by the prologue.
Critical Analysis of “Turn of the Screw” by Henry James with Literary Crticism in Context
The prologue and the series of prologues demarcate as frames do a kind of distinction, separation, between the story and life, a separation associated with death, forgetting, the passage of time; or perhaps more essentially with suppression, repression, locking up precipitating ghosts, breaking out, the return of the dead.
On the other hand, each prologue by which the story is passed along offers itself as a new presentation of actual life outside the story. As the story loses touch with experience, the prologue seems to continue to renew its hold, and to provide a new measure of the widening gap between the two. But instead each prologue presents another reflection or, indeed, reduplication, reiteration, of the original story.
These problems suggest in turn the problems of memory and forgetting, suggesting also the question of the influence of art, that repository of the dead, of the forgotten or suppressed, the unconscious.
Above all, the prologue enacts the theme of story as form and art and form art as containment the Grecian urn enigma so compelling to moderns —containment in and by and against which the matter contained breaks out.
Each prologue enacts such an outbreaking.
The prologue to The Turn of the Screw is a frame which appears to distance the story from life; but language which tries to present the difference between fiction and life can only reflect or repeat not life but its own attempt; form forms.
However, though art is separate from life and different in its character as form, it is at the same time form that works to disclose the difference, life. Life is not captured, circumscribed, not reflected or repeated; but it is connected or engaged via this tenuous, confrontational negotiation. Frames are a principle of seeing as interpreting—differentiating something from other things, and connecting and relating it to them.
We noted above the frame of expectation. But though what appears upon the horizon of expectation may appear by dint of its difference, its appearance does not dissolve the expectation; instead, what appears maintains its appearance in relationship to that projection. Expecting Miss Jessel out the window she sees Miles, but, as we note below, her dread is not eased but redirected. Her expectations, we may conjecture, stem from her limited previous experience, her youth, her sentimental proclivities, private fancies, and later from her need for justification.
Windows Another frame, as we have mentioned, is the window. We have considered the window as glass, as mirror, but it figures more essentially as aperture, opening, and as limiting structure, point of view frame. We take for example the scene cited above f. There are many Hamlet echoes in the story, and in this one the governess all but betrays herself—as does Miles, It is situated in a place, from which it opens out and into which it brings the things it opens to view.
The governess chooses a particular window for the purpose of taking in a certain view in a certain way; i. As we have noted, with the discovery of Miles her horror is not simply vanquished or corrected but is transferred. But she cannot look directly at the tower; what she brought to the window, associations of memories and fears and desires, for example, informs her vision. The knowledge and capacity which windows figure which are the only means and guides to identifying and interpreting appearances work here to rush upon and overwhelm the small figure.
The place where her perspective is situated does not disappear and become inoperant when the governess looks out from it; the meanings, associations, that inhabit the place are the functional and limiting means and manner of taking in the view of what is outside.
Window is a way of approaching and also of appropriating. It brings the place and its furniture with it and by means of these it meets and engages, articulates and appropriates, what it opens to view. Though windows may be used as mirrors, in which case they reflect a self image, when they are used as windows proper they open the view onto an outside, though limited and easily turned to the service of preconception or prejudice.
A counter-device to windows is the screen. The governess undertakes to screen the children from the vision of evil; she herself will be the screen, shielding them by intercepting the view. Bars and fences are more counter-devices to windows. The governess fences the children about more tightly than ever; she hardly sleeps, never lets them out of her sight. She and they are bound together—on the wrong side of the fences, bars.
They are closed in—with evil. The governess cannot see evil because it is within her now. The children are in presence of evil for she and not only she brings it with her. The surprising consequences, noted above, are that the children are more radiant than ever, outdo themselves—and her—in creative invention and in feats of intelligence and learning.
But the governess continues to tighten the vise of her obsessive possessiveness, and something must out. Screens and bars are doubtlessly effective, but not to contain evil. They are part of some essential tendency to hide, lock up, close off, and they function not so much to contain or prohibit things as to construct and proclaim a limit; and eventually in each case they precipitate a reaction. After Miles has betrayed signs of impending rebellion, the governess sets him free—relatively.
He is freed from their regimen and from a kind of delay or suspension of normal expectations. For a couple of days he ranges over Bly. He proposes that they stay on together In the final scene in the dining room before the windows through which the evil broached via the governess the children and Bly, the governess senses that Miles feels barred by the windows and screens figures of her means of receiving and containing the evil from something he needs to see.
Miles manifests something like human potentiality, whose essence is freedom but whose realization requires seeing as well, whose seeing requires forms. Form as ending, as definition or as enclosure, works in the story as frame frames per se, windows, screens, fences, barsand frame works not merely to mark a place, but to work an intermediation and to produce an action, reaction. It uses forms to get past them. But my description so far falls short of a certain violence which forms mark and precipitate in the story.
Propriety Propriety is a form at whose borders lie the gross, the queer, monstrous. Grose dash after Flora—all without hats; even the appearance of decorum is abandoned. But impropriety is not all of a kind in the story. The women exhibit one kind. In the scene at the lake all of them—the governess, Miss Jessel, Mrs. Grose represents an essential aspect of it. Unable to read or write, 20 she depends upon the spoken word for knowledge As for understanding, seeing into things, she takes or the governess takes her to take the spoken word of the governess.
I had made her a receptacle of lurid things, but there was an odd recognition of my superiority—my accomplishments and my function—in her patience under my pain. Thus she is content with the appearance of well-being, with orderliness, propriety. She is presented in capsule in this passage: I found her sitting in pained placidity before the fire. So I see her still, so I see her best: There is something fundamental in Mrs. There could have been no such justification for me as the plain assent of her experience to whatever depth of depravity I found credible in our brace of scoundrels.
Appearance is the measure Mrs. Grose takes of things and the object of her concern. Grose as it links both of them to nature, the natural. In the scene at the lake Flora identifies herself and is identified by the language of the narrative with Mrs. Against the reality and force of evil she sets her rigid will, but though she is violated and becomes violator, she never relinquishes her original motivation: Throughout the story he manifests propriety in its most refined possibility: Propriety, I am claiming, is one of the forms used in this work to declare and use borders, not for ending but for crossing.
Propriety works like a border for Mrs. Grose and defines safety; but for the governess—easily carried away, fanciful—it is more; it stands as both an ideal form and as an unexamined appeal to the master. Propriety, mere appearance, is what the governess most adores. But her own initiation into the vision of evil, a seeing past mere appearance, carries her to the border between form and disaster which is the site of the story.
The principle in propriety is literality, which is characterized in the prologue: Felman has worked out this definition of the literal as the limited consciousness, language. But the story reveals another aspect of literality as well. I shall examine literality, grossness, first for something essential in it. Literality is crude as Mrs. Grose and the governess evince it, yet in itself is not necessarily or merely so. Literality There is a literality in the story which can be examined like frames and mirrors—the fact of letters.
Later the children write letters, never posted, to the master. And there is talk about letters: Grose and later Miles threatens to write to the master. After the initiatory communication from the master, all the letters imply impulses blocked to get in touch with the master, impulses to reach outside Bly or the story to a responsible authority or power.
The problem of the absent master invites analysis from several perspectives see especially Felman ff. The master to whom Mrs. Grose would appeal is the figure of propriety institutionalized: The master to whom Miles would appeal or the master that the governess is enjoined against addressing represents what remains of mastery the original master is dead as underlying source, as origin, and as enduring potentiality not-language, below. The master seems to represent a point where the literal as we have discussed it occupies the same space as lawless potentiality.
The master—such as he is: However, the attempts to solicit the intervention of the master are little more than hapless gestures after a receding past. It is altogether unlikely that they can effect a return to or a restoration of the legitimacy or integrity of an original mastery. One characteristic common to all the letters, even the first packet that reaches its destination, is that they are not so much communications in themselves, as indications of communications withheld.
The conditions at work in the story, that found and guide and limit it, proceed from an original interview, to which the literal terms of this letter point in confirmation. And we can see in this framing the violence that frames do: This is a statement of literal terms which in their literality attempt to contain or limit the matter to which they pertain. But the major impact of the letter is its indication of what is unstated, the matter that remains contained, locked up: The letter in its effort to contain provokes the first eruption into view of the matter it would conceal or restrain.
Grose and to Miles the direct action that they both have urged her to take, which they both have threatened to take themselves. Things, the ending, having gone out of her control, only outside intervention can prevent the catastrophe.
But the letter is construed by each to signify a different action. Here it is himself he wishes to see and hopes to see by means of her letter. But the letter does not say something about him; it merely indicates that there is something to be said.
Grose desires the reign of literality and Miles desires freedom from literality. To both, the master represents correction of reality—to Mrs. But both desire from the letter more than it provides.
Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw
Measured against their expectations her letter indicates a mere intention to act, a substitute for action, at most future, delayed action. But for the governess the measure of their disappointment is the measure of her success, for the ultimate literal achievement for the governess would be not-writing the letter, indicating positively her faith to her charge and implying successful governorship. Here the literal functions not only to indicate and to evoke, but also to maintain or violate the contract which is the basis for the order of things at Bly.
The letters are merely beautiful and thus irrelevant to what really happens. These beautiful letters are capable of the literal function of indicating, announcing, and precipitating event.
- James: Another Sense of an Ending
But the story offers other clues to the character of beauty. As the beautiful young governess slips deeper into her obsession, she sees a progress of ugliness mirrored back to her. Beauty occurs in the story most radiantly along with the creativity, intelligence, and vitality that mark the community the governess and the children sometimes share, all the more richly as that intercourse, defined by expressions of geniality and care, is fertilized by the influence of the ghosts.
Grose threatens to write to the master Mrs. Grose cannot writethe governess asks her how she communicates. We know that the governess needs justification.
Inasmuch and insofar as Mrs. Grose identifies, or identifies with, the ghosts, she too is responsible for what happens The literal as we have defined it is not in itself hostile to point of view, but is simply inadequate, in its essential function, to produce it. For that, as the ladies agreed, one needs a story. Vulgar literality is the covering-over locking up of life by language that substitutes itself instead—language as representation romance.
The governess chooses to deal with this matter in Mrs. My dear woman, look at him! Her scheme to screen the children by intercepting the evil hovering about them is mocked soon enough by her own hovering evil.
Her romantic impressionism is yet another example of the same phenomenon; things appear to her first invariably in a cloud of fiction, then more problematically, and finally more cruelly as they near. These instances and others signify in a motif of oppositions between languag-ing which draws toward form in the romantic governess the tendency toward mere appearance, re-presentation as coherence, story as en-closure and life not-language, chaos, abyss: Border … there were times when it might have struck us that almost every branch of study or subject of conversation skirted forbidden ground.
Forbidden ground was the question of the return of the dead in general and of whatever, in special, might survive, in memory, of the friends little children had lost. Both returning and surviving defy death, surmount or reverse or conquer it. Thus they transform it, since death that one can pass through and out from again is not death. Language avoids not-language, and not-language is forbidden or forbidding to it—a double injunction, from inside and out.
The border between language and not-language does not limit, define, separate, end: An interesting problem is the entanglement of past and present time in this vision of border as question.
Time is not the issue; yet time is unseated and revitalized in this question of the border.
Once again the concept of subjectivity loses its integrity. The interdependence that mirrors mirror in this work is the figure of the happening of reality here and in the Jamesian element generally. There is never a direct seeing or a pure knowing or an independent action or event. Subjectivity reaches into extrasubjectivity, involves and changes objectivity.
All is entanglement, interdependence note the motif of aid, assistance, to seeing and interpreting. The stranger displaces the master in her imagination, noted above, interrupting her general consciousness with a sense of immediate presence. There are evidences, as we have noted, that the apparition is a projection of her own fancy. There are evidences that the stranger is not or not merely an extension of her own nature.
Her second impression which she senses as a correction to the first is that he is not what she at first took him for, the master, but is a total stranger, at least to her knowledge. He looks back at her with an intensity like her own; their inter-penetrating gaze is a mutual challenge.
The point is that this encounter does not resolve into pure subjectivity; the question of the nature of the ghost is the question of the border between language and not-language, e.
This widening image brings us to the most fundamental form available to our examination, the figure of story as work of art and the governess as author. Work of Art The governess is an author literally in that she is writing her story. Within the story she is author figure as she assumes responsibility for Bly and author-ity over what happens there. Grose, the housekeeper, whom I take to represent the reader, an unlikely interpretation since Mrs.
Grose cannot read The sexual ambiguity of this view of the narrator would support the homoerotic interpretation I offer later in this essay, and the psychic mechanisms described by Kanzer have often been held by many Freudians to typify the latent homosexual. Miles as his adolescent self, usually a loner separated from both peers and masculine company; Mrs.
The Treacherous Years, New York,esp. My own view, within the theoretical construct of Herbert Marcuse Eros and Civilization: The story is virtually a morality play, involving the typical conflict of divine and demonic agents fighting for the soul of Everyman.
The garden at Bly is the Garden of Eden; Miles and Flora are Adam and Eve in a state of prelapsarian innocence; Quint corresponds to folklore descriptions of the Devil; the governess is both an angel sent from God and a Christ-like mediator.
Other apparitionist critics have expanded and rounded out this interpretation; the only character left unaccounted for is Miss Jessel, who too often is seen as merely the artistic counterpart to Quint. Miss Jessel, as cohort of Satan, is probably the Lilith in the Judaeo-Kabbalistic tradition who united with Adam and brought forth the race of demons, imps, and fairies. In Greek mythology Lilith corresponds to the figure of Lamia, who has at least two characteristics in common with Miss Jessel.
This view of the governess as virtually a Grand Inquisitor, however, has not been pursued in any detail, and is more often felt than analyzed.
The precisely defined three-part framework of inquisitorial torture may in fact be extremely important to an understanding of the story. Grose, suspected of being herself a witch or at least a conspirator. The title of the story immediately calls to mind the thumbscrew, an unhappy instrument which effectively personifies the very concept of torture.
Numerous passages in the story itself resemble verbatim transcripts of a typical inquisition conducted sometime during the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries. When the governess questions Mrs. Grose after seeing Miss Jessel across the pool, she seems to be applying the techniques of pressing and the strappedo to her unwilling victim in an effort to extract a confession: She had told me, bit by bit, under pressure, a great deal.
It was a dreadfully austere inquiry, but levity was not our note, and, at any rate, before the gray dawn admonished us to separate I had got my answer. The story has a three-part division which parallels the standard three-part structure of inquisitorial torture the source of the first- second- and third-degrees used in the local police interrogation. The first session of the "dreadfully austere inquiry," called the Preparatory Torture, usually involved allowing the victim to view the instruments of torture, and merely threatening their use.
This stage corresponds to the prologue through the middle of chapter four, when the governess sees Quint outside the window and realizes that she must protect Miles from his influence. In this section the governess is "prepared" by omens of evil and her vision of Quint just as the reader is "prepared" by the careful build-up of the prologue. If the Preparatory Torture fails, the inquisitor proceeds to the first part of the Final Torture, called the Ordinary Torture of question definitif, which usually involved pressing, the strappedo, and sometimes the thumbscrews.
This phase corresponds to the middle of chapter four through the middle of chapter fourteen, when the governess confronts Miles outside the church and unwittingly reveals her knowledge of the situation. The question definitif, the question that defines the nature of the problem, is basically "For whom did Quint come? The question extraordinaire, the question that gets to the root of the problem, may be "How much do you know, Miles?
The leitmotif of this section is sharpness suggesting pointed screws other than the thumbscrewestablished by words such as "pierced," "piercing," "stabbing," and "sharp"; bone splitters may be suggested by "fierce split" and the wheel is indicated by reference to the "slow wheel.
The governess deliberately calls attention to this term; the first growth of her perception is "an inward revolution" while the second realization leads to outward action: I call it a revolution because I now see how … the curtain rose on the last act of my dreadful drama and the catastrophe was precipitated.
Since "revolution" is unmistakeably used to refer to an act-change upon its second occurred, it seems reasonable to assume that it is used in the same way upon its first occurrence; no other linguistic device would indicate more than three acts.
Further evidence, in addition, suggests that these two transitions are clearly set apart from the usual flow of the narrative or drama. Both revolutions occur on a Sunday, which further suggests that the story is a Christian demonic-versus-divine ritual drama.
Soon after the first revolution, the governess places herself outside the window in the exact spot where Quint stood; soon after the second revolution, she places herself at the bottom of the stairs in the exact place previously occupied by Miss Jessel.
The parallelism of this symbolic act suggests that the governess, in order to become a "screen" and "sacrifice" for the children, is using the most dangerous technique used by the exorcist: Flora and Miles are definitely preternatural in their "angelic" beauty and "blessed" innocence, but this may all be a sham to hide their true natures. Miles, like Quint, is an excellent actor. Miles is "under an interdict," perhaps has been excommunicated, because "he was a fiend at school. Neither should be overlook Mrs.
Grose says to the governess, "You will be carried away by the little gentleman! The governess is led by Flora: The common denominator of these religious themes is ambivalence and ambiguity, or more precisely a sense of two-sidedness.
The children are pure and simple, yet may hide complex natures behind a theatrical mask of innocence; they seem angelic but are perhaps demonic. The story mixes Christian morality with pagan amorality. Miles himself may be an innocent child and yet a mature demon-lover who attempts to seduce and corrupt the governess.
Much of "the uncanny ugliness and horror and pain" of the story disappears if we attempt to ignore either side of these ambiguities, particularly if we view the governess as a mere neurotic. The most disturbing ambiguity of the story is its sexual level, which is presented not merely as ambivalence but as a highly systematic rendering of the coincidentia oppositorum consisting of interrelated syzygies, or pairs of opposites.
The angelic male and female Miles and Flora correlate to the demonic male and female Quint and Miss Jessel. The governess offers herself as a yonic "screen" but acts like a phallic "screw. The tower and Quint, whose first name is Peter and who is described as being "tall, active, erect," are obvious phallic images, while the pool associated with Miss Jessel is so closely analogous to the vagina and clitoris that it almost become embarrassingly naturalistic rather than symbolic: