Function and analysis of the ghosts in 'Turn of the Screw ' by Henry James

Term Paper, 2002

11 Pages, Grade: 2+ (B)



1. Introduction

2. Analysis
2.1 Function of the ghosts in Marxist Criticism
2.1.1 Discussion of Marxist Criticism
2.2 Function of the ghosts in Psychoanalytic Criticism
2.2.1 Discussion of Psychoanalytic Criticism

3. Final Summary
3.1 Personal statement
3.2 Conclusion


1. Introduction

Henry James's "The Turn Of The Screw" has been often interpreted since it was first published in 1898. There are a lot of hints in the story, but those hints are rarely stated directly. So the difficulty in reading and judging the story in one certain way makes it even more challenging to read.

Until today critics have not come to an agreement whether Miles and Flora or only the governess are haunted by the ghosts. So one might pose the question "When do critics ever share the same opinion?". After all there are always different people with different opinions who read one and the same story completely different at all. But nevertheless every author has a certain intention, the purpose to convey a message by writing the story down. Possibly the openness to various interpretations is the point of the novel. Basically this is what every reader should have in mind.

Many questions move critics concerning "The Turn Of The Screw", e. g. "What does the governess really see while her encounters with those apparitions?", "How can she describe the dead Peter Quint that detailed without ever having seen him before?" and -most essentially- "How did Miles come to death in the end?". Every question itself is interesting enough, but I find the question most exciting, what the ghosts represent if they are no real supernatural apparitions. It seems to be clear that only the governess is able to see the ghosts. As far as I remember there is no single hint that is evidenced clearly in the whole story that Mrs. Grose or the children are also able to recognize the ghosts. So possibly only the governess is haunted by the apparitions for reasons that have to be analyzed more deeply.

In fact, the happenings at Bly are told by the governess, as it was her who wrote the story down. She always believes to be sure about the children knowing about the existence of the ghosts. But the reader will never get to know if the children really do. There is no omniscient or at least objective narrator. Therefore the reader can never be sure if the governess's experiences really happened this way.

Surely there are a lot of critics having worked on this question, for instance the members of Marxist Criticism and those of the Psychoanalytic Criticism. I am going to describe, juxtapose and judge those ideas in the following essay.

2. Analysis

2.1 Function of the ghosts in Marxist Criticism

The theory of literature of the Marxist Criticism is summarized by Bruce Robbins as follows: "First, they put texts into historical context. Unlike other styles of historic criticism, they also do something else. They try to change that context – to have an effect on history."[1] Due to this putting into historical context, Robbins analyzes the story in his essay "They don't much count, do they?" from the historical point of view in which the governess is situated at the moment the story happens.

In the 19. century novels with governesses were very famous, especially them which contained love stories between governess and master, like it is also in "The Turn Of The Screw". In Victorian times governesses were also a general subject to vague accusations of sexual misconduct. One example is "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë. But those novels usually end with a quite unrealistic overcome of social class differences, and have a so-called happy-end. The main character in "The Turn Of The Screw" is denied such a destiny, more disastrous "she never even sees him again"[2]. This is the first issue of Marxist Criticism concerning the function of the ghosts for the governess. She is -consciously or not consciously- in love with her master being a member of a higher social class. Therefore she wants to impress him by showing she can do the job as best as she can. Miles and Flora shall be protected by her heroically, so it would be possible that the governess is driven by a certain force which tells her do behave as if she was a hero. But she is not able to do so due to the non-existence of danger at Bly. So her fantasy invents the ghosts.

The relationship between governess and master is not generally the main plot in "The Turn Of The Screw", but furthermore the relation to the ghosts: "It is her relations with the ghosts that lead us to the very heart of the story's reflections on social hierarchy and its refashioning social allegory."[3]


[1] Robbins, p. 283

[2] Robbins, p. 285

[3] Robbins, p. 285

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Function and analysis of the ghosts in 'Turn of the Screw ' by Henry James
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institute for England und American Studies)
Introduction to Literature Studies
2+ (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
445 KB
Function, Turn, Screw, Henry, James, Introduction, Literature, Studies
Quote paper
Katrin Zielina (Author), 2002, Function and analysis of the ghosts in 'Turn of the Screw ' by Henry James, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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