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“The Turn of the Screw” a Novella by Henry James Essay


Henry James created a ghost story that is still highly discussed. Readers and critics do not agree as to sanity of the governess and the presence of ghosts as it seems that those are delusions of the governess. The story is also remarkable in terms of the Marxist theory. The author draws specific attention to the concept of the class in his story. The Marxist reading of the story can provide interesting insights into the characteristic features of the British society at the very end of the 19th century. The conflict between the classes is apparent and some fears of both of them are brought to the fore.

The representative and even embodiment of the upper class in the story is the patron, the uncle of the two children, who hires the governess. The man is depicted as a symbol of his class. He is “a gentleman, a bachelor in the prime of life, such a figure as had never risen, save in a dream or an old novel” (James 158). He is a representative of the privileged class who has access to unlimited resources. It is quite remarkable that the major requirement for the governess is to “never trouble him” (James 160). This was a characteristic feature of the upper class of that time. They were an untouchable caste that lived in a specific world where the other class (workers) were not allowed. The rich did not want to notice the needs and wants of working people.

Such people as the governess or Peter Quint could only occasionally peep into the world of the upper class but they were never really accepted or even noticed there. The governess saw the patron only twice in her life and could only fantasize about him while Peter Quint served as a company to the patron whenever it was needed. The patron exploited both of them (as well as the rest of servants) in a way he found appropriate and necessary. Henry James depicts the chasm between the upper class and the class of workers in his short story.

The chasm is seen through the depiction of Peter Quint who is a representative of the proletariat. First of all, it is important to emphasize that Quint can be regarded as a complete opposite to the patron. The latter is ascribed such qualities as nobility, attractiveness, charm and so on. Whereas, the former is depicted as an embodiment of all vices. Interestingly, Peter Quint is an attractive man. The author does not create an impression of a complete monster. Peter is remarkably attractive but he is “never – no, never! – a gentleman” (James 180).

Thus, it is clear that this is the way upper classes (those who were reading the short story in question) saw proletariat. The rich admitted that workers could be good fellows in some ways. At that, Quint has quite noticeable and memorable traits. His red hair can be seen as a stigma of the proletariat. Of course, appearance of a working person differed greatly from looks of a representative of upper classes. Likewise, Quint’s red hair was a peculiar feature that made him noticeable. Features of the working people enlarged the chasm between the classes.

Apart from clear distinctions in appearance, the worker also bore a stigma of vice. A representative of the proletariat was a symbol of the vice and moral corruption. For instance, he was in inappropriate relationships with the previous governess. He was ‘free’ with all people. This depiction suggests that the rich saw the poor as vulgar, corrupted and vile people who were often engaged in criminal activities. The rich did not want to get in contact with vile and vulgar creatures.

It is also remarkable that the rich also saw one path for such extreme cases as Quint. The character’s death is described in detail. He ends his life after a vicious night at a public house when he slips “on the steepish icy slope, a wrong path altogether” (James 184). According to the upper class, the worker does not have the right to have a dignified death. Quint has a vicious life and his death is his punishment for living an indecent life.

Importantly, this character plays a very remarkable role in the story. Quint embodies fears of both classes. On the one hand, Quint is regarded by the upper class as a significant threat. Thus, the author makes it clear that ideas the worker spreads can corrupt and “spoil” gentle souls of representatives of the upper class (James 184). The death of the boy is an extreme case of the harmful influence of the proletariat. Thus, the rich were afraid of the ideas of proletariat that could put an end to the world order.

At the same time, Quint was also one of fears other representatives of the class had. For instance, the governess (who also pertains to the working class) fears of the corruption and descent to the level of Quint. The image of the corrupted worker’s soul haunts the governess. Obviously, she is afraid to move lower within her own class and she dreams of getting into the upper class. The author stresses that the governess is in love with the patron and wants him to be proud of her and her ways (Davidson 7). In the polarized society of the 19th and 20th centuries, people of lower classes always wanted to enter the upper class world. The governess’ fascination with the patron is the covert proletariat fascination with the world of rich.

In conclusion, it is possible to note that the idea of class plays an important role in the story under consideration. The class determines major qualities of people, it also affects the distribution of roles in the society. The class is what shapes people’s lives. Thus, the upper class is depicted as a distant world where all people are noble and perfect. The working class is exploited by the privileged class. Working people often try (and some manage) to enter or rather peep into the world of the upper class.

However, working people are doomed to remain in the conditions they live in. More so, the working class is also depicted as a major source of vices in the world. Henry James makes it clear that there is a huge chasm between the two classes. The author also shows fears the two classes have. The society of the 19th century is depicted in a very realistic form even though the story involves some ghosts. Thus, the Marxist reading of the story helps unveil peculiarities of the British society of the very end of the 19th century.

Works Cited

Davidson, G.R. “Almost a Sense of Property”: Henry James’s The Turning of the Screw, Modernism, and Commodity Culture.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 53.4 (2011): 455-478. Print.

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories. Buffalo, NY: Broadview Press, 2010. Print.

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IvyPanda. ""The Turn of the Screw" a Novella by Henry James." June 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-turn-of-the-screw-a-novella-by-henry-james/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""The Turn of the Screw" a Novella by Henry James." June 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-turn-of-the-screw-a-novella-by-henry-james/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"The Turn of the Screw" a Novella by Henry James'. 10 June.

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