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The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

by Henry James

Wisdom and Knowledge Theme

We generally think of wisdom and knowledge as good things, right? In The Turn of the Screw, it's hard to pin knowledge down as good or bad; the best you can really do is say that knowledge is fine…for some people. Even though our main character is a teacher, she seems to spend most of her time hoping that her children don't know certain things. We get the feeling that too much knowledge too soon is dangerous, and that some people go through their whole lives poorly equipped to handle the scary truths of the world. There's even the implication that knowing too much can lead to madness – or even to death.

Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

  1. The idea that knowledge is not in fact power, but is rather corruption, is prevalent here. Why is it that Mrs. Grose, who receives all of the knowledge that the Governess has, is not also changed by the experience in any noticeable way?
  2. Based on textual evidence, how much do you think the children really know?
  3. How much of this story does the Governess actually know, and how much is simply speculation?

Chew on This

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

The Governess's self-imposed role as a "screen" between the children and the ghosts allows her to accrue more knowledge than anyone else in the story, which in turn corrupts her to the greatest degree.

It is Miles's admission of his knowledge that ultimately kills him in the end; by dissecting the final chapter, we can see that relinquishing his secrets to the Governess also means relinquishing his life.

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