The Turn of the Screw
The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw as Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis: Tragedy Plot

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type :

Anticipation Stage

The Prologue

So, as you've probably noticed, this is a rather unconventional story. A large part of the story's thrill comes from the experience of reading, rather than the actual events of the tale. This begins with the very first few pages of the piece; the Narrator and Douglas both build up the tension in the "audience" of listeners at the house party, which also serves to create a sense of anxiety for us, the readers.

Dream Stage

The Governess takes up residence at Bly, and is infatuated by her students and by her new life on the whole. (Chapters One – Three)

Life looks like a big bowl of Victorian cherries for the first few chapters of this book; though there are minor complications, like Miles's mysterious dismissal from school, but the Governess is willing to overlook these things. She's too busy being infatuated with the two angelic children, who are, simply put, too good to be true. It's summer and everything is idyllic; the world seems like a pretty good place…for now, at least.

Frustration Stage

Peter Quint's appearance on the tower, and his return (up close and personal) outside the window. (End of Chapter Three)

True to "Tragedy" form, a shadow figure appears at the end of Chapter 3. Peter Quint's introduction sparks this stage of the story, in which suspicions begin to build about Quint, about the children, and about the recent history of Bly in general.

Nightmare Stage

The Governess suspects that Flora saw Miss Jessel and lied. (Chapter Seven)

For the first time, the innocence of the children is really thrown into question. The Governess actually breaks down at the end of Chapter Seven, fearing that it's too late to save the children at all, and that the ghosts have already won. Little does she know that things at Bly are only going to get worse…much, much worse.

Destruction/Death Wish Stage

Flora denies seeing the ghost; the Governess decides to cast the girl aside and focus on "saving" Miles. (Chapter Nineteen – Chapter Twenty-Four)

After Flora's breakdown and accusation of the Governess, the "Destruction" stage sets in; the Governess cuts her losses and abandons Flora, choosing to try and salvage Miles instead of both siblings. The Governess's obsession with the boy reaches its peak here, and her fervor to force him to confess his transgressions is what pushes the story to its tragic conclusion. She goes all out in trying to "save" the boy, but, in the end, doesn't succeed.

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