Thursday, September 10, 2009

Objectivity in The Turn of the Screw

This was actually something I noticed a while back, but I neglected to mention and couldn't include in my paper (as you'll see below).

The Turn of the Screw has a narrative frame that is easy to be objective about: the reader feels confident that the events of the narrative frame really did occur as the narrator says they did. It's easy to write about the events in the narrative frame without straying to far into the realm of subjectivity and interpretation.

However, it is considerably more difficult to be purely objective about the rest of the story (the governess's tale). The governess's tale is full of holes that are never filled (what kind of relations, specifically, did Peter Quint and Miss Jessel have with Miles and Flora, respectively? why, exactly, was Miles expelled?) and concern events that we know not to have been possible if the governess is to be believed. We are unable to write about the tale from our (the readers') perspective because we would implicitly be assuming something about its veracity and/or what the governess was truly experiencing. We are also unable to write about the tale from the perspective of the characters in the narrative frame because James never returns to them at the end of the novel. As the governess' tale is written in first person, we also can't discuss what the other characters are thinking either. Even this blog post itself is rife with interpretation about the work.

What does everyone else think? Is it possible to make interesting observations about the governess's tale without resorting to plot summary?


  1. In order to catch people's interest one must give them something they did not expect. This means that one must give them something they didn't see, and if they didn't see it must not have been in plain sight which means it has to be inferred and therefore interpreted from the narrative. Interpretations are a lot more interesting because they leave room for discussion and development of new ideas. Great point though.

  2. I for one, while I was writing my essay, thought that it was interesting how I was trying to write objectively on a piece that was clearly subjective to begin with. We as the reader only get one side of the entire story; thus, we don’t even get all the facts about what was going on throughout the story. On top of that, the “holes” James creates for the reader to fill in with what he or she thinks just make the story even more subjective. I even stopped to think for a second of the possibility that what the governess had written in her manuscript may have been completely the opposite of what had actually occurred at Bly. I suppose that as for what really happened, we really will never know.

  3. Let's remember that in fact, nothing "really" happened--it's a novel.

    But the fact that we keep wanting to know what "really" happened indicates that James has managed to imbue a ghost story with the "sense of reality" that he talks about in "The Art of Fiction"!


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