Does Henry James' The Turn of the Screw have any metaphorical meanings?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw is one of the most famously ambiguous works ever written. Critics have debated for many decades whether ghosts are real or whether they are merely figments of the governess’s imagination. They have also debated the motives and character of the governess herself – whether she is sincerely concerned with the welfare of the children or whether she has somehow lost her mind. The nature of the children has also been a subject of great debate. James wrote the novella in ways that make answering these kinds of questions a notoriously difficult thing to do.

Various metaphorical meanings of the story suggest themselves, including the following:

  • Often, in the effort to protect and preserve innocence, we destroy it. Consider, for example, the stunning sentence in which the governess, having confronted Miles, the young boy she seeks to protect, realizes that he has died:

I caught him, yes, I held him – it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to see what it truly was that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.

  • External “demons,” if they even exist, may be less dangerous than the internal demons that haunt the human mind.
  • Truth is notoriously difficult to determine, even when “eyewitnesses” are involved.
  • The mental stability of persons in positions of authority is especially important.
  • People who seem concerned about the "possession" of other may be "possessed" themselves.
  • The most intriguing mystery fiction consists of fiction in which the mystery cannot be solved.

 

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