How does Henry James make the main character an unreliable narrator in The Turn of the Screw?

In The Turn of the Screw, Henry James makes the main character an unreliable narrator by making her say things that call into question the truth of her story. For instance, the governess frequently implies that she has a vivid imagination and frankly admits that she's rather easily carried away.

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In common with many ghost stories, The Turn of the Screw employs the literary device of the unreliable narrator. Primarily, this is designed to hold the reader's attention, to make them want to get to the bottom of what's really happening in the story.

In James's story, the role of...

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In common with many ghost stories, The Turn of the Screw employs the literary device of the unreliable narrator. Primarily, this is designed to hold the reader's attention, to make them want to get to the bottom of what's really happening in the story.

In James's story, the role of unreliable narrator is taken on by the governess, who has been hired to look after two children, Miles and Flora, at a stately home called Bly. In due course, the governess will come to be convinced that the children are in serious danger of being lured into evil by ghosts.

And yet it's difficult to take what the governess says at face value because of her open admission that she's “rather easily carried away.” The sexist stereotype of the giddy, irrational young woman was quite common in James's day, and he doesn't hesitate to draw upon it in presenting the character of the governess.

The governess's reliability as a narrator is further called into question when she embarks upon her tour of the Bly estate. At first, she thought that Bly might be a “castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite.” But having looked the place over, she concludes that it is a “big, ugly, antique” house.

This would appear to indicate not just that the governess has a somewhat vivid imagination but that she has a tendency to slip between fantasy and reality, thus bolstering her status as an unreliable narrator.

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