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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Candlelight suggests safety in the governess’s narrative,
while twilight suggests danger. On a number of occasions, the governess’s
lighted candle is extinguished, always with the implication that
something is awry. At the top of the stairs, her candle goes out
at the exact moment she sees Quint. She views him in “cold, faint
twilight.” A week or two later, the governess wakes up to find her
candle extinguished and Miles on the lawn in bright moonlight. Her
view of him in that light suggests danger and, in a way, prefigures
his imminent death. Later, Miles blows out the governess’s candle,
plunging the two into darkness. The lack of moonlight implies an
absence of the supernatural, and the blowing out of the candle indicates
a loss of protection.
In The Turn of the Screw, events become
fully real only when they have been written down. The governess
at first refuses to record the circumstances at Bly in a letter
to her employer. If she preserves the events in a material document,
she will have reached a point of no return—she will be forever unable
to deny what happened. She also has relied on threats and passionate
speech to persuade Mrs. Grose of her visions and theories, and convincing
someone through the written word will be much more difficult. Eventually,
she does write the letter, and she also writes down the entire account
in the manuscript that we are reading. The manuscript, unlike the
letter, allows her to present events in a way that will persuade
her readers she is both sane and telling the truth. In keeping with
the ambiguity of the tale, the trajectories of both written records,
the letter and the manuscript, are interrupted, which further impedes
our ability to determine whether the events are or are not “real.”
The letter is never sent, and the manuscript stops short of a definite
conclusion. These interruptions suggest the story remains unresolved—and
cast doubt on its reliability.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Turn of the Screw!