What are some of the most important issues to consider in writing a feminist critique of the story The Turn of the Screw by Henry James?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Feminist readings of Henry James' story The Turn of the Screw can investigate three different issues: the culture described in the story, the individual female characters in the story, and the reception of the story.

On a cultural level, a feminist critic would look at the limitations of the roles available to women in the universe of the story and their confinement to the domestic sphere, a cultural formation made even more apparent in contrast with the uncle, who removes himself so totally from the domestic sphere that he does not even wish to hear word about the children from the governess.

On a character level, we can look at how both the housekeeper and governess are both constrained by their female roles but also subvert them by creating their own form of authority within the sphere of the household. We might also investigate the classically nineteenth-century notion of female "goodness" or the female duty to act as a moral compass.

Reception studies is an especially fertile area of study for the feminist critic. Wilson's seminal essay attempts to interpret this story from a Freudian perspective as a document of female hysteria. We can use the history of the psychological criticism of the story to discuss how female experience has been marginalized by Freudian psychology and the theory of hysteria in particular to dismiss women's experiences by pathologizing them.

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The Turn of the Screw

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