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The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw


by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw Theme of Appearances

Characters in The Turn of the Screw are basically judged entirely on their physical appearances – sweeping speculations are often made based simply on how people look. Hmm. Seem problematic? We know, you may be muttering, "But Shmoop, that's just so wrong!" to yourself right this very second. Don't worry, Henry James also recognizes that judging people in this fashion is not exactly the best way to go through life. The story largely revolves around questions of appearance, representation, and truth, and even if we don't emerge with any other great understanding of these things, we can be confident in saying that things aren't always as they seem.

Questions About Appearances

  1. How much do the children get away with simply because of their appearance?
  2. What significance might the incredible physical beauty of the children have?
  3. Two other people are referred to as exceptionally beautiful – Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. What significance might this have? What makes their beauty different from the children's?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The greatest mistake made in The Turn of the Screw is the equation of outer beauty with inner purity.

The dangerously spellbinding quality of the children's beauty can be considered to be one of the story's supernatural elements.

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