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Turn of the Screw

The classic 1898 horror short story by Henry James.

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A Review of Turn of the Screw

  • May 18, 2010

Turn of the Screw: A Review

Henry James’s Turn of the Screw is a well-crafted ghost story. But its suspense is derived from James’s style and the personalities of the characters. If one word could describe Turn of the Screw, that word is ambiguity.

James uses the first person perspective to place the reader on edge. The protagonist is a young woman who applies to be a caretaker for two young children who, James leads us to believe, are one step below royalty. She is a confident, bold woman but moreover she never really questions herself or her sanity. She has a particular way of seeing the world and of seeing herself and all transpiring events must fit into that paradigm. Certainly, she communicates her horror of the ghosts but she never questions that she dreamt the experience. She presents a problem of interpretation; too many times she assumes meaning behind innocuous phrases from the children and the reader is left to trust her judgment. And two particular events hurt her credibility. Mrs. Grose could not see the ghosts and because the children are never specifically mentioned as seeing the ghosts (their contact with the ghosts was merely another assumption from the young woman), it is equally possible the young woman is delusional. The conclusion further hampers her credibility. Either a terrible travesty occurred or she screwed up horribly.

James also uses dialogue to create ambiguity and tension within the story. The dialogue between the caretaker and the children is innocent and often playful. But the caretaker frequently assumes more than is prudent from the words of the children and the readers are presented with yet another dilemma—are the children truly angelic devils or is the caretaker absolutely mad? And if she is mad, how mad is she? It is a conundrum. The tension between the children and the caretaker is one of the main sources of conflict in the story. Frequently, there are double and triple meanings to every speech and the meanings of the utterances shift throughout the story depending on new evidence and plot twists.

Finally, there is the inherent ambiguity of the unspeakable evil—the ghosts of Ms. Jessell and Mr. Quint. They could be anything from benevolent spirits to hallucinations. They don’t take action; their mere presence causes enough tension. They add another layer of mystery to this story.

James uses ambiguity to create tension in an otherwise formulaic story. The first-person perspective, the dialogue, and the mysterious spirits weave a confusing and disturbing atmosphere that propels the story along to its frightful conclusion.

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May 21, 2010
This year my major reading theme is "Classics". This one is definitely getting added to the list. Thanks for a fun review.
More The Turn of the Screw reviews
Quick Tip by . December 22, 2010
Eerie and quite complex. This is the kind of psychologically ambiguous ghost story that will leave some readers thrilled, some angry and some perplexed. It's short enough to be well worth the time to judge for yourself.
review by . September 22, 2010
THE TURN OF THE SCREW is the ambiguous story of a governess teaching two young orphaned children whose uncle guardian has assumed the financial responsibility for their upbringing but wishes to have absolutely no physical or emotional contact with them. Very shortly after she assumes her duties, ghostly apparitions begin to frequent the children's home and the surrounding grounds. Initially, the governess is worried that her sanity may be in question but, when she describes the appearances of …
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
Deceptively creepy, James will engross you with this great narrative that simply refuses to be tied down to any real classification.
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
A good read, and oddly thought-provoking.
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Good Book, Great Story, Interesting, catchy, gets you involved every chapter
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
I think it takes a certain taste to enjoy these stories. I read them before when I was still in elementary but didn't really understand why the stories were considered horror, but rereading it, I find the classic rhythmic way James tells his stories different, classical, and brilliant. Understand that these stories were written a century ago so if you aren't a fan of old stories - usually not gory or overt in their stylings, then you won't like this book.
Quick Tip by . May 19, 2010
One of the most eerie & psychologically complex horror stories. I love the ambiguity of whether or not anything supernatural ever occurred.
review by . February 22, 2007
Long before DaVinci Code, Turn of the Screw was generating all sorts of controversy. Are the ghosts genuine or a product of neurosis? Who sees them? Just what is going on with the young master, and is he actually perpetrating all the terror? Then there are readers who dislike James's style. For me, these and other questions enhance my enjoyment of this essentially timeless story. James's elegant language merely adds another layer to the deliciously creepy atmosphere. The Turn of the Screw is fun …
About the reviewer
Christopher Tepedino ()
Ranked #708
My name is Chris Tepedino and I'm an aspiring writer currently attending the University of Tennessee. Reading is a solitary pursuit, so I hope Lunch will help me meet others who enjoy reading.
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About this book



Author: Henry James
Genre: Classic Literature, Horror
Date Published: October 13, 1898
Format: Novella

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