The Turn of the Screw

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Themes and Colors
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Turn of the Screw, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

To call this a theme may seem a little ridiculous, given that this is a ghost story—of course there are supernatural events. But the theme of the supernatural, in Henry James’s hands, is worth thinking about. The supernatural is important because it brings into the story an essential, richly complex element of ambiguity: given the evidence, it is possible that the ghosts are there and equally possible that they are not there at all. The

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This theme is closely related to the supernatural, since the basic question here is: do external impressions obscure internal realities? But this theme does not necessarily have anything to do with the supernatural. This is about discrepancies more rooted in everyday happenings, and the important question that these discrepancies implies: can external appearances (the clothes a person wears, or the smile they have) ever provide us with enough evidence for us to make conclusions about…

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The Turn of the Screw explores the relationship between storytelling and the reality stories depict: can stories be trusted as representations of reality; does the telling of a story always imply some separation or distance from reality; can stories tell something true without telling explicitly the truth? These are not questions the book explicitly answers. But an argument can be made that part of Henry James’s agenda here is to argue that stories—even fictional stories—can…

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Each character in The Turn of the Screw withholds some crucial bit of personal information from each of the other characters. This tendency to repress, lie, and conceal personal information—to create and enforce an atmosphere of secrecy—is presented in this book as something capable of thwarting the development of meaningful and healthy relationships with others and with ourselves.

The governess, for example, cannot openly discuss with the children her concerns about their wellbeing because…

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The Turn of the Screw explores and complicates the relationship between youth and innocence. Youth and innocence are difficult to pin down in the book: the children seem precocious and (in the governess’s words) wicked, but at the same time they are presented as innocent and honest victims of a difficult situation. Henry James was known to have had an interest in the inner lives of children, as both precocious and mature members of the…

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