A Gender- Based look at The Turn of the Screw by Henry James; Faye

“The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James is an extremely ambiguous book. It is very unclear, and in the end you never learn exactly what is haunting the main character, whether it is her mind going crazy and playing tricks on her or if she is actually being watched and haunted by two ghosts. There are many different ways to look at this book, and many different ways to interpret it. One way to do so is to look at the story through the eyes of a gender critic.

Gender criticism is looking at a character in a story and asking why they act the way they do based on that character’s gender and the gender stereotypes of that time period. One modern example of a gender stereotype is that only girls wear skirts. Also, gender criticism is looking at why those stereotypes are there in the first place and how it helps to set the scene of the novel or book. However, a gender critic has to remember that their viewpoint is not static or based on one gender-based view. A gender critic cannot judge a book well if s/he is only looking at it through the eyes of only a feminist or only a masculine point of view. The critic must be more open, and look through the piece with an equal blend of each view.

In” The Turn of the Screw”, the main character of the unnamed governess takes on several different gender roles. She has a maternal role, a paternal role, and a childlike role. She is maternal in her caring of the children, Flora and Miles, her two charges from the Bly estate. She is has a paternal role because of the way she looks over the whole house because of the lack of upkeep by the master of the house, Griffin, and also because throughout the story she believes she is protecting the house against the ghosts of two old employees. An example of her willingness to do this is on page 51, where she states, “…I should serve as an expiatory victim and guard the tranquillity of the rest of the household.” The reader can clearly see here that the governess has accepted the fact that it is now up to her to protect the house.  She is also, however, in a childlike role because of the way Mrs. Grose, the highest-ranked housekeeper, is required to comfort her when the governess loses her mind to the overall stress of all her jobs and seeing ghosts around and in the house. She also is very motherly to the two children of the house, Miles and Flora. Flora is a six-year-old girl and Miles is an eight year old boy. One way she looks after the children is by being supportive and understanding of Miles,  who was recently expelled from school. It is unclear exactly why he was expelled, but Mrs. Grose’s theory  is that he stated he was homosexual and completed an action that was thought of as corrupting the other children. Mrs. Grose, however, also has more than just a motherly role. She acts as a paternal figure to the workers under her, and also takes on a paternal role when the governess is unable to watch over the rest of the house and she must do it herself.  Another role for Mrs. Grose is to be the Angel in the House. This is a term applies to the Victorian Era, when the best women were the ones who rarely left the house and cooked and cleaned and looked after the children. Mrs. Grose is an Angel in the House because she is the one adult in the house who actually keeps her sanity and raises the children because the governess is unable.  One of the lessons Henry James is trying to teach is that, like in “The Woman in Black”, when a person leaves their role bad things will happen.

Gender criticism is a very interesting way to look at media articles. It bases a review off the way the characters interact and react with one another because of their roles in the house and the gender stereotypes of their time period. In “The Turn of the Screw”, the unnamed governess took on too many roles and eventually had a mental breakdown. The housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, almost couldn’t cope with so many roles she suddenly had sprung upon her. And Miles, the young, 10-year-old boy died because of so many problems that aroused with him. Overall, I personally didn’t like the book because I found it very boring and slow to read, but when I was analyzing the book I found it to be a lot more engaging and interesting



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