The True Villian
On the surface, Henry James’, “Turn of the Screw” has all of the qualities of an innocent old-fashioned ghost story, but underneath there is much more. The use of ambiguity appears frequently throughout the novel and the reader is left to decide a lot on their own; Are the ghosts real? Who can actually see the ghosts? Which characters can the reader really rely on? These questions can be answered in a variety of different ways, but who is to say which answer is the correct one? The biggest case of ambiguity appears at the very end of the ghost story with the death of Miles.
With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a
creature hurled over an abyss, and the grasp with with I recovered
him might have been that of catching him in his fall. I caught him, yes
I held him - it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a
minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held. We were alone with
the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped(James 120). When examining the scene one may think that it was the governess who physically strangled the boy. If this is not the case then the governess was the one who scared the young boy to death. Edmund Wilson an American writer, critic and social commentator discusses this in his critical essay, “The Ambiguity of Henry James.”
Instead of persuading him that there is nothing to be frightened of,
she has, on the contrary, finally convinced him either that he has
actually seen or that he is just about to see some horror (93). Wilson discusses how from the governesses point of view Miles could not handle the shock and horror of the spirit but in reality he can not even see the ghosts to begin with so the blame is placed on the governess. The governess knows that Miles can not see the ghosts or her “hallucinations” because she mentions his “sealed eyes” (James 120), meaning that he cannot see apparitions like just about everyone else in the...
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