The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James
The Turn of the Screw Theme of Society and Class
If you take away the whole ghost thing, The Turn of the Screw really becomes a story about social class. Interestingly, it's still a horror story. James uses class difference to create much of the tension in the story; sure, it's scary that ghosts might be menacing a couple of adorable children, but what's even scarier, he tells us, is the idea the one of these ghosts might be a common, working class guy, who's endangering a rich, upper-class boy just by association.
Questions About Society and Class
- It is noted early on that Peter Quint was not a gentleman, but Miss Jessel was a lady – how is this significant?
- Do the Governess and Mrs. Grose's fears about Quint's influence upon Miles simply boil down to a class conflict?
- The other adult (and the only man) in the children's lives is their guardian, the Governess's employer. Does his refusal to engage in their upbringing hint at any comment on society's treatment of children?
- The characters are largely removed from interaction with the outside world. What does the isolation of the Bly estate contribute to our reading of the story?
Chew on This
The true danger posed by Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw is not a sexual threat, but one of class, since he threatens the boundaries between servant and master.
One of the most important qualities valued in The Turn of the Screw is knowing one's place in the world; however, our protagonist, the Governess, consistently steps out of hers, demonstrating that she is just as much a transgressor as either Quint or Jessel.