Gothic - Turn of the Screw and Shutter Island

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A value common in many gothic texts is that of the role of women, who are generally demonstrated as weak and incapable, especially in difficult and unfamiliar circumstances. In “The Turn of the Screw,” for example, the governess and even Mrs Grose are determined to protect and mother the children yet; ironically, they cannot even go as far as to protect themselves mentally. Correspondingly, in “Shutter Island,” it is implied that Teddy’s psychological insecurity is only there due to the trauma his manic depressive wife caused on him. Like how the governess potentially negatively influenced the children, Teddy’s wife also potentially negatively influenced her husband. And all this is due to the personal psychological feebleness of these two women, thus emphasizing the gothic value of the weakness of women.

A second notable value is that of the role of religion. In “The Turn of the Screw,” for example, when the household is on the way to church, a place stereotypically filled with goodness, little Miles questions the governess about when he will be returning to school in a way that is so innocent and oblivious that it is almost sadistic, since it is obviously implied that he was expelled for a somewhat felonious act. This irony, the very fact that they are approaching a church and Miles is considerable sinner, emphasizes the little influence that God has on the evil and hence makes the gothic seem even more horrendous. “Shutter Island,” on the other hand, does not obviously link in the role of religion with things like church, prayers and so forth. However, director Scorsese is, in background, a Catholic man and for this film, he embodies a valuable religious lesson. That rebellion towards God through violence can only lead to the severe emotional downward spiral of oneself.

Gothic texts contain many mutual tropes. The unknown is one of them and both texts begin with an immediate indication for it. The Governess of “The Turn of the Screw” accepts the job offer at Bly, taking herself out of her usual comfort zone. This instantly places her in a vulnerable position, especially emotionally, where her future is indefinite. Similarly, in “Shutter Island,” the protagonist, Teddy, arrives at the unfamiliar Shutter Island. He too, is taken out of his usual comfort zone. The very fact that he is at this island to do investigations immediately creates a sense of the unknown. Hence, both central characters are in strange environments without direct control of their own lives. The question of reality - it plants anxiety into the audience especially as both texts, to some extent, carry out prolonged rhetorical questions. Is what reality to the protagonist reality is at all? Will we ever really know? For example, in “The Turn of the Screw,” only the Governess claims to see the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Perhaps the other members of the household can see the alleged ghosts but are unwilling to confirm it or perhaps the ghosts just don’t exist at all and are simply a result of the governess’ own mental instability. Similarly, in “Shutter Island,” reality is often questioned. As Teddy’s investigations precede further, the audience’s original perception of what is reality on Shutter Island becomes somewhat fallacious. This is especially true towards the end of the film where we discover that Teddy’s life is essentially a lie, a game. However, contrasting “The Turn of the Screw,” the question of reality is eventually somewhat solved at the conclusion of the film where we learn that Teddy is a dangerously mentally ill man himself. Therefore, the question of reality in both texts effectively raises doubt in the audience and by stripping away the reliability of reality, this is in turn, the most horrific thing – the ambiguous is gothic to humans.

This hence brings forth the next point of which is ambiguity, a language technique common in the gothic genre. In James’ text, ambiguity is consistent, such as, but definitely not...
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