The Turn Of The Screw Essay

1165 words - 5 pages

Superficially, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw seems to reinforce the status quo of American literature as male, whereby men are viewed as having power over women leaving women to become mere objects. James creates a nameless female protagonist whose story is told through the guise of a male narrator. She becomes an object viewed by Douglas’s audience and is used simply as means for the master on Harley Street to avoid being bothered by his charges. She is then set up as naïve and love-struck, willing to do just about anything, including risking her own sanity, for the sake of keeping the master undisturbed. However, on closer examination, James actually creates a novella that subverts the traditional idea of men having power over women as it is the governess who has the final word in her story, not the male Douglas, and it is the male heir Miles who becomes the scapegoat leaving the governess free, “awfully clever and nice” (James 24).
James’s unfinished frame tale creates frustration and confusion but his experiment with form also draws attention to what has largely been left unconscious. Through Douglas’s initial telling of the governess’s story she is reduced to a nameless object that they all raptly listen about rather than listen to. While at the start, Douglas does have power over the governess’s story, in the end it is the governess who has the final word and Douglas, who disappears after only the first seven pages, is never to be heard from again. James relinquishes power to the governess and allows her to participate as there is no need to return to the male voice once she takes over. Furthermore, as the governess does remain nameless throughout her own narrative this hardly is a power issues as both the master on Harley Street and the narrator remain nameless as well.
In addition to his manipulation of form, James also uses the content of his story to portray patriarchal ideals but only as a means of later subverting them. The governess is described as “the youngest of several daughters of a poor country parson” implying inexperience and naiveté (26). The weak female stereotype is further developed as Douglas reveals, “She was in love” with the unobtainable master on Harley Street (24). Her youth, inexperience, and blatant desire to the please the master set her up to be the traditional sacrificial scapegoat in which the purified survivor is the husband/male. However, James twists the patriarchal content in the end when he gives power to the governess and spares her from the enactment of man’s power over woman. In the end, as with the frame structure, it is the female governess who has usurped the power from the males around her. Instead of becoming the sacrificial scapegoat it is Miles, the male heir, who becomes sacrificed and the governess who remains the cleansed survivor. Furthermore, she both fulfills her role as a female and rises above it as she leaves the master “disburdened, delighted […] thanking her for the...

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