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The Importance of Chapter Six in The Turn of the Screw

The Importance of Chapter Six in The Turn of the Screw

Chapter Six is an important section of The Turn of the Screw, as it involves many of the themes of the story, as well as reflecting its general narrative structure. James’ novel is phenomenally complex; it has an incredible ambiguity to it, which allows for some very outlandish and far-fetched ideas to be formulated. A ‘theme’ can almost be drawn from almost every other sentence, if one so desires. It is deciding which issues have a little more to them than there may seem at first and which are what they appear, nothing more, which is difficult. As with many books of its ilk, over-analysing is a serious essay writing hazard.

To take things one aspect at a time, and to begin with the narrative structure. Whilst not exactly a key issue’ of the story, the narrative structure can often inŸuence how those issues are revealed and detailed to readers, so still holds some relevance to the essay title. Chapter Six’ overall structure is very similar to that of the story as a whole. It begins quietly, after the climax at the end of the previous chapter (as with the main part of The Turn of the Screw after the prologue, which creates a great deal of anticipation) and begins to increase in tension slowly throughout, with a slight lull in the middle, where the narrative becomes very reŸective and introspective, with the Governess writing her thoughts seemingly as they enter her head, creating a somewhat rambling, dense prose. Finally, when readers are least expecting it, the plot suddenly leaps into view once again, creating an exciting žnale (“Then I again shifted my eyes – I faced what I had to face.•) which leaves many plot threads open to inter…

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… – a Gothic story. This is most evident when Miss Jessel appears across the lake. This is a particularly Gothic image, made all the more vivid in the following chapter, when she is described as “a žgure of quite as unmistakable horror and evil: a woman in black, pale and dreadful.• In retrospect, this makes the end of Chapter Six seem even more Gothic.

Chapter Six reŸects many of the key issues of the story, more so than most chapters. However, The Turn of the Screw is a very intense book, and every sentence seems to have hints of some deeper, darker deliberation on the part of James’ writing. It is not unusual in this story to have a single chapter that contains a great deal of important information and relevance to the rest of the book – Chapter Six does tend to explore more issues in such a short space than other sections of the story, however.

Comparing Ambiguity in The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents

Ambiguity in The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents

How successfully does the black-and-white film version of The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961), render the ambiguity of James’ original text? Ambiguity, the art of deliberately creating something that can have more than one meaning, lends itself to the written word without difficulty. A written story can involve ambiguity in the characters, plot, narrative – every factor in the story can have to it a sense of uncertainty. However, uncertainty concerning ambiguity is subtly different from uncertainty involving vagueness; the former is a deliberate ploy by the writer to leave interpretation open to the reader’s own imagination, whereas the latter comes about due to a lack of detail delivered on the part of the writer, probably due to lack of talent or attention.

With The Turn of the Screw, Henry James crafted an immensely complex and highly ambiguous book – there is nothing vague here; when Jack Clayton decided to make it into a film, he faced an upward struggle. Adapting a book for a film is always beset with difficulties – the written word has the ability to be far more subtle than the projected frame – but capturing the ambiguity of The Turn of the Screw would be immensely difficult. Words do not have to be precise in their meaning but a picture on a cinema screen is just a picture – there is little subtlety or uncertainty. A director has to employ imaginative techniques to make a viewer doubt what he is so evidently seeing. This was especially true in 1961, when The Innocents was produced, a time before sophisticated visual effects came into use.

Almost all of The Turn of the Screw is open to alternate interpretation …

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…e. As with many book-to-žlm adaptions, a desire to change the ending is the žlm’s undoing.

In some respects the žlm captures the ambiguity of the original text extremely well – the existence of the ghosts and supporting characters, the involvement of the children – but the more subtle ambiguous parts of the book are lost in the žlm, which is too specižc in places, particularly the ending.

One point that should be taken into consideration is that this essay was written based upon a version of The Innocents that had been cropped to žt a television screen ratio, losing the original widescreen footage. Therefore it was impossible to fully appreciate the director’s true vision; consequently, some claims (such as Grose rarely being in the same shot as the governess) may only stand when a third of the picture has been lost.

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