This essay will argue that neither the governess nor her narrative is reliable

Inform your response with reference to the novel’s narrative structure, James’ use of language to characterise the governess and your knowledge of the text’s historical, cultural and critical context. This essay will argue its case by looking at the narrative structure, Henry James’s use of language to characterise the governess and will also refer to other historical, cultural and critical opinions of the novel.

Through all this, the essay will show how the story we are reading is not an ideal source of true events and then by looking at the psychological state of the Governess, this essay will show why she shouldn’t be believed either.

The story starts of with a man named Douglas telling a story to guests at a dinner party. It is from a manuscript passed down to him by the governess before she died. The manuscript tells us the main story of the governess. The story is set in the late 19th Century and is about the governess who is now in charge of the care of two orphans.

Although the children seem to be well behaved and affectionate at first, she becomes more and more uneasy as she starts to see ‘ghosts’ of her predecessors… * The first point this essay will pick up on is the narrative unreliability. As the essay has briefly explained already, we are not getting that story directly from the governess. Instead the ‘Turn of the Screw’ is one of the guests at the party, telling us the story which Douglas gave him which came from a manuscript given to him by the governess, which she wrote about her experience at Bly over twenty years ago, phew.

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Douglas said it was ”long ago” Because this story has gone through so many people, there will probably be a ‘Chinese Whispers’ effect, meaning that parts of the story have been subject to change since the events happened. Douglas also says that this narrative is from an “extract of my own much later”. This means that the story has been prone to alteration by the people passing it on and so we are probably not getting the true story of events. This greatly undermines the narrative reliability as its structure indicates that some parts of the narrative have been altered while others have been forgotten.

The governess also wrote this as a retrospective account of events. She comments on her ”dreadful liability” and how her story is “true enough”. The manuscript was written by the governess after events had occurred. She also says that “I scarce know how to put my story into words”. This is another example of how parts of the actual series of events are missed showing how we can’t rely on this narrative to give us the true and exact series of events. Not only could parts have been forgotten, but parts could also have been added. There are examples where you can tell the governess has added parts to her narrative.

She will often come up with massive long speeches that give the impression that she is in control: “No, never – from the hour you came back…. You seemed so perfectly to accept the present. ” She also includes signposts in her narrative e. g the separation of the governess and Miles from Mrs Grose and Flora “Mrs Grose and Flora had passed into the church… We were for a minute alone” If parts have been added to cover up her mistakes, then perhaps other things may have been removed disproving her claims. This therefore undermines the narrative reliability.

The perspective in which the governesses’ story is written also undermines the narrative reliability. As it is written in the 1st person by the governess, the entire narrative is subject to the governesses’ influence and her influence alone. She uses plenty of 1st person pronouns “I remember it… ” which proves this is her personal account of events. She refers to her story with the words “the strings of my invention” This gives the impression that this story is her puppet and she has full control over it. We should not trust this story as it is heavily subjectivised and therefore it is unlikely that it will be entirely correct.

There is only one other character in the story who could give us an extra perspective on events: Mrs Grose. However, Mrs Grose is being manipulated by the governess throughout the book. The governess admits she had “formed the habit of keeping Grose well in hand”. There are also examples where Mrs Grose takes on the governesses reasoning after being pressured by the governess “Lord how I pressed her now. ” We only get the governesses perspective and any interjections from the interlocutor Mrs Grose are likely to be influenced by the governess. It also seems that the other characters in the book cannot be relied on for the truth.

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This essay will argue that neither the governess nor her narrative is reliable. (2019, Dec 05). Retrieved from

This essay will argue that neither the governess nor her narrative is reliable
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