The Turn of the Screw

Henry James
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title The Turn of the Screw

author Henry James

type of work Novella

genre Gothic novel; satire

language English

time and place written 1898, England

date of first publication 1898

publisher Collier’s Weekly

narrator The governess narrates virtually the whole tale in retrospect, as she writes it down in a manuscript. The prologue is told by an anonymous narrator who seems educated and of the upper class.

point of view The governess speaks in the first person, as she puts into writing her account of the strange occurrences she experienced at Bly.

tone The governess narrates with an attitude of intimate confidentiality that is biased and possibly unreliable.

tense Past

setting (time) 1840s

setting (place) Bly, a country home in Essex, England

protagonist The governess

major conflict The governess struggles to unlock the mysteries of Bly and protect her two pupils against what she believes to be supernatural forces.

rising action The governess has a number of encounters with two different ghosts whom she believes seek to corrupt her unnaturally perfect students, who may be communicating with the ghosts behind her back.

climax The governess points to the image of Miss Jessel as proof that the specter exists, but Mrs. Grose and Flora claim to see nothing, which implies that the governess is insane.

falling action Flora becomes ill from fear of the governess and departs Bly with Mrs. Grose, leaving the governess alone with Miles to contend with the ghost she believes haunts him.

themes The corruption of the innocent; the destructiveness of heroism; forbidden subjects

motifs Vision; a ship lost at sea; silence

symbols Light; the written word

foreshadowing During her first day at Bly, the governess thinks she hears a child’s cry in the distance. The governess imagines herself at the helm of a ship lost at sea. The governess experiences stillness ahead of each supernatural encounter.