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The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

by Henry James

Analysis: What's Up With the Title?

This title's meaning is exposed on the very first page of the story; after hearing a ghoulish tale in which a child is menaced by some ghostly terror, someone suggests that the fact that the story's protagonist was a child is what gives a certain "turn of the screw" – that is, it tightens the dramatic tension. James' story offers a second "turn" by introducing a horror story about two children instead of one. This is an oddly mechanical way of describing the construction of a horror story – that is, a story that cranks the audience's stress level way up – and it keeps one of James's primary concerns, the craft of writing, in the back of the reader's mind at all times. The title also takes on a second meaning as we near the end of the story; the protagonist uses the phrase to describe taking control of her mental and emotional capabilities in preparation for a challenge.

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