Sunday, August 15, 2010

Analyzing "The Turn of the Screw" from a Freudian Perspective

Mary Finnigan

Dr. Steven Wexler

English 436: Major Critical Theories

15 August 2010

Analyzing The Turn of the Screw from a Freudian Perspective

In the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, the psychological implications of the story illustrate what Sigmund Freud wrote about in The Interpretation of Dreams. The young woman in this story can be seen as being highly imaginative or deranged, depending on how one reads the text.

When the governess agrees to take on the position as caretaker and educator of two young children, she has no idea how remote the area is where she will be living and how utterly alone she will be. As a young girl of only twenty, she is impressed by the handsome gentleman she meets for her interview in London, and is smitten with him immediately. “He struck her, inevitably as gallant and splendid, but what took her most of all and gave her the courage she afterwards showed was that he put the whole thing to her as a favor, an obligation he should gratefully incur” James(4). The conditions of the employment are unusual, the most unusual one being that she should handle everything herself, and never “trouble him” again. “She promised to do this, and she mentioned to me that when, for a moment, disburdened, delighted, he held her hand, thanking her for the sacrifice, she already felt rewarded” James (6). There are several reasons for the type of behavior described in this passage. The naiveté of the young woman and her inexperience in the world leads her into a situation for which she is unprepared. Freud could suggest that she is suffering from an Electra complex. The employer is older, wealthy, and handsome and could represent a strong paternal figure to a girl with a weak Father. It is mentioned in the novella that her Father is a poor country Parson and rather fragile. His weakness may make her more gullible than a girl from a family with a stronger Father.

Freud also writes that one’s unconscious desires are not ruled by reason: one has no awareness of them. The governess in this story is put in an untenable situation for one so young. She is asked to run a large country house, manage the help and educate the children without any input or advice from her employer. In time, she begins to see and hear things that may or may not be happening. Are the children playing tricks on her or is she beginning to lose her grip on reality? The question always debated is, are the ghosts in this story real, or are they the figment of a young girl’s hysteria?

One could argue that the governess is repressing her feelings for her employer and this is resulting in her imagining the “ghosts”. These romantic feelings cannot be expressed and as they are buried, they develop into psychosis. Freud states, “Recently, along quite speculative lines, I arrived at the proposition that the essential difference between neurosis and psychosis was that in the former the ego, in the service of reality, suppresses a piece of the id, whereas in a psychosis it lets itself be induced by the id to detach itself from a piece of reality” Norton (844). As The Turn of the Screw continues, the reader can observe as the governess begins to “detach” from reality. The governess becomes more and more unbalanced until she scares one child away and scares the other to death.

In his book Repression, Sigmund Freud wrote that “the essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance from the conscious” Freud (147). The governess in this novella is able to repress her feelings for her employer and keep them out of her conscious mind. Considering that she has been instructed not to contact her employer under any circumstances, she really has no choice but to ignore and repress what feelings she may have. How is this theory of repression that Freud writes of demonstrated in this novella? What can be seen as a repression of feelings for the uncle of the children soon develops into “seeing ghosts” of the former nanny and valet coupled with an overprotective relationship with the children. That the governess feels that she and she alone can “save” the children from these ghosts is evidence of her increasing mania. When the governess begins to be unable to sleep, her insomnia contributes to her volatility.

In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud writes about the “dream-thoughts” and the “dream-content” and compares the two to an original and the translation. Freud (819) While the dream can be very brief, understanding of the “dream-thoughts” may be very detailed and dense. If one is unable to sleep, it is not long before a toll is taken upon one’s health, mentally and physically. Does the fact that the governess is exhausted because the children are sneaking around at night contribute to her idea that the estate at Bly is haunted? Edmund Wilson makes a convincing argument regarding the Freudian theory when he writes in “The Ambiguity of Henry James”, “Observe, also, from the Freudian point of view, the significance of the governess’s interest in the little girl’s pieces of wood and of the fact that the male apparition first appears on a tower and the female apparition on a lake.” Wilson (171). The sexual inferences in this scene can be viewed from the lens of one [the governess] who is uncomfortable with, or trying to suppress her sexuality.

Conversely, in “The Freudian Reading of The Turn of the Screw”, Robert Heilman considers the theory put forth by Edmund Wilson as “wobbly”. He states, “the governess’s feelings for the master are never repressed: they are wholly in the open and joyously talked about: even in the opening section which precedes Chapter 1, we are told she is love with him” Heilman (178).Yes, one can argue that she is in love with him based on remarks made early in the work. However, the reader finds more evidence of a repression of these feelings than a proclamation of them throughout the work. Toward the end of the story when the housekeeper, Mrs. Grouse asks if she should send for the Master, the governess answers most emphatically that she should not do so. If she were “joyously” in love with him, it seems likely that she would welcome any chance to see him again.

The Turn of the Screw can also be viewed under the microscope of Feminism and Gender Studies. Susan Bordo writes in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, hysteria was “epidemic” to the Victorian era. Norton (2243). The women of the Victorian era were praised for their delicate nature and inability to cope with stress and strain. The disorders that were commonplace to women during this time period were “nervous tremors and faints” Norton (2244) “Doctors describe what came to be known as the hysterical personality as impressionable, suggestible, and narcissistic: highly labile, their moods changing suddenly, dramatically, and seemingly for inconsequential reasons…egocentric in the extreme” Norton (2244). This could be the description of the governess in this story. She possesses many of the qualities of a woman of this time period that were thought of as normal and acceptable. In The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar write that “upper and upper-middle class women were [defined as] ‘sick’ [frail, ill]; working class women were [defined as] ‘sickening [infectious, diseased]” Norton (1933-1934).They point to the “cult of female invalidism” that developed in England and America. (1934). Given these descriptions of women’s ailments that were considered normal during this time period, the governess in this story can be seen as merely living up to the expectations of society.

To examine the governess from this story from a standpoint of feminism is to really have an inkling of what it may have been like to live in this time period. We know that she is educated, but from a poor family. The options available to her are limited. She can become a teacher or a governess if she does not marry, or hope to make a suitable marriage to someone close to her in social standing, religion and financial means. She cannot live alone, as this was a not an option for a young women of this time.

However, when the governess arrives at Bly, she is thrust into a situation that she is unable to resolve. Her charges are strange children, the instructions she has been given are hard to fathom, and things begin to happen to her that are very hard to understand. She has also fallen in love with her employer and can do nothing to resolve that. He is above her in age, social standing and wealth and it is unlikely that there could ever be a match based on those criteria alone. It is therefore not surprising that she begins to imagine all sorts of ghosts and apparitions of valets and nannies who have passed away. As she begins to unravel, she becomes more and more irrational and hysterical, like many a woman of this time.

As the governess begins her stay at Bly, she receives disturbing news that her young charge, Miles has been expelled from school under mysterious circumstances. As she is for the most part powerless to have him reinstated, her overactive imagination begins to dream up all sorts of scenarios that could be the reasons for his dismissal. Her reaction to these events coincides with the ideas of the day regarding the emotions of women. The fragility that was ascribed to women was also a means of allowing them to remain incompetent and helpless.

The Turn of the Screw could be analyzed in another way, dating back to readings from the beginning of class. If one were to reference Gorgias Of Leontini, when he wrote “Encominium of Helen”, one would find that the governess is blameless for her actions as they occur in the novella. Because she was “persuaded by words [logos] or captured by love” Norton (39}, she cannot be held accountable. It would seem reasonable to say that this young woman was influenced by the speech [logos] of her employer and that she was deluded into taking a job that she may not have otherwise taken. Like Helen of Troy, though she was not kidnapped she was “compelled by the speech” (40). “The persuader, then, is the wrongdoer, because he compelled her, while she who was persuaded is wrongly blamed, because she was compelled by the speech” (40). This speech was able to “mold” the mind of the youthful, innocent governess and persuade her to accept a position to insure the care of the young niece and nephew.

When reading a work such as Henry James Turn, it is useful to critique the text based on some of the theories studied this term. While each theory examined brings something new to discover in the work, some are more naturally analogous than others. The Freudian Theory seemed to be the most absorbing in relation to the text, and one can find many instances of Freud’s ideas as they are illustrated by the actions of the characters in the book.

Works Cited

Bordo, Susan. “The Body and The Reproduction of Femininity”.2240-2254. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism Second Edition. Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. New York: Norton,2010 Print.

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body. Leitch 2240-2254.

Esch, Deborah and Jonathan Warren, Eds. The Turn of the Screw. A Norton Critical Edition. Second Edition. New York: Norton, 1999. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. Repression. Standard Edition. Vol. XIV. London: Hogarth, 1915. Print. 147

Gorgias of Leontini. “Encominium of Helen”.Leitch. 38-41.

Gilbert, Susan. And Gubar, Susan. “The Madwoman in the Attic”. Leitch. 1926-1938.

Heilman, Robert B. “The Freudian Reading of The Turn of the Screw” .Esch and Warren. 177-184.

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Esch and Warren. 1-85.

Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism Second Edition. New York: Norton, 2010. Print.

Wilson, Edmund. “The Ambiguity of Henry James”. Esch and Warren. 170-173.

Reflection on Presentation#1

It is always hard to be the first group "up to bat". It is difficult to know what to present because you do not have the luxury of seeing other people's presentations for comparison. My group's presentation was on Classical Literary Criticism. Our group was Cherie, Jessica, Erika and me. We met after class and decided how we wanted to present our topic. We decided that playing a game would be a good ice-breaker and would put everyone at ease. We divided up the authors, each taking one from the group of the classical antiquity writers Gorgias, Plato, Aristotle, and Longinus. We then decided that the game "Jeopardy!" would be a good choice. We all worked on our questions for our authors according to the degree of difficulty assigned for the level[point value] of the game. We e-mailed our questions to Jessica, who volunteered to make a power point presentation on her laptop. I think she did a great job with that and deserves a good deal of credit. We met again the day of our presentation to determine how to divide the class up into teams and how we would play the game. The only problem we had was a technical difficulty with the computer that we were able to rectify by the next class period. Our presentation went well, and the class seemed to enjoy the interaction with one another. The only thing missing was a realistic buzzer for the right answer! Jessica was kind enough to bring treats for the winning team. I think our presentation was well received and got our class off to a good start. Everyone worked hard, and we made a good team! You might say we hit a home run!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Analysis#7, "Who is Clayton Clayton?"

The You Tube clip posted here is meant to illustrate our culture's fixation on gender and ethnicity as we perceive it today. In this clip, some of the attitudes that exist in our society are illustrated, especially concerning gender and ethnicity. Though this is a satirical look, many of these very opinions are prevalent even in the enlightened year of 2010. As the women in the clip say, Clayton/Clayton has an "alternative lifestyle" that makes them uncomfortable. They question his sexuality and comment on the fact that he looks "swarthy" and may be of middle eastern descent. They also comment on the fact that he is "not a christian" and "not an American". What then, does that make him? In attempting to pigeonhole a person, we risk making broader assumptions about race, gender and sexual orientation which may or may not be correct. Langston Hughes writes in "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain", "The Negro artist works against an undertow of sharp criticism and misunderstanding from his own group and unintentional bribes from the whites"(1194-1195). In trying to be true to oneself and trying to find a voice in an artistic sense, it can be difficult to mesh these two sometimes conflicting ways of "being". Langston Hughes hopes that Negro middle class people will turn away from what they think they should be and be able to"catch a glimmer of their own beauty"(1196). He notes that the younger generation seems more able to create a different persona than what is traditionally expected of them. It is interesting to note that this essay was written in 1926, yet seems very current today. The quote "I am a Negro-and Beautiful!"(1196) is timeless and resonates many years after the writing of this. Gloria Anzaldua also writes about the conflict in her book, "Borderlands/La Frontera:The New Mestiza"She speaks about the dichotomy between who one is, by birth, and who one is by society's definition. She writes"Because I, a Mestiza, continually walk out of one culture and into another, because I am in all cultures at the same time..."(2099), illustrating the difficulty many Latino women face today as they make their way in the world. "The new Mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity. She learns to be Indian in Mexican Culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view"(2100). The "New Mestiza" has to balance the expectations of their family with the expectations of a society that is many times color blind, or conversely, too focused on color. In viewing this You Tube clip with the ethnicity and gender readings in mind, one may come away with a very different view about who and what people are, based on who and what they could be incorrectly perceived to be. Works cited: Anzaldua, Gloria." Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza".Norton 2098-2109. Hughes, Langston. The Negro Artist and The Racial Mountain". Norton 1192-1196. Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Second Edition. New York: Norton, 2010. Print. You Tube clip, "Women Against Clayton/Clayton" 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gender Studies and Feminist Theory, Analysis#6

In the book by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar "The Madwoman in the Attic", the stereotypes of women are examined as they relate to female artists and the"anxiety of authorship"(1929). The feeling that one cannot create something original as an artist, and a woman because it has been done before by men creates the "anxiety of influence"(1929). The theory that women are seen as either an angel or a monster becomes an impediment to becoming an artist in a world dominated by male artists. Gilbert and Gubar point out "It is debilitating to be any woman in a society where women are warned that if they do not behave like angels they must be monsters"(1932). There seems to be no middle ground. Women have been thought to be more emotional than men, hence weaker. This emotional nature historically resulted in "women's diseases" such as nerves, vapors, and frailty and sensitivity. It is interesting to note however that many times women were the ones who held the family together in the toughest of times. One can read any account of the ill fated Donner Party and find that it was many of the women who turned out to be more"hardy" than the men in the group. These women did the necessary tasks to keep people alive as the party was trapped in the snowbound mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the 1840's.
The prevalence of anorexia nervosa in our society today is interesting in the way some women seek to control their life and bodies in the only way that they can, by not eating.Susan Bordo claims that "The emaciated body of the anorectic...has become the norm for women today"(2245).She also notes the incidence of agoraphobia has increased in the twentieth century.This coincided with the beginning of the feminist movement in the 1950's and 1960's and the confusion over the role of women in the home and the workplace. Gubar and Gilbert note that the "cult of invalidism"(1934) exists in upper and upper middle class women who are defined as "sick".It is interesting to note that is less often observed in lower to lower middle class women. In the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper", a woman is prescribed a "rest cure" for her nerves and is told not to write to do anything that will tax her mind. This enforced inactivity only serves to unhinge her more and she begins to really lose her mind. As long as this woman stays an invalid, it gives others, [her husband and relatives] a great deal of freedom. Many times when a person who is ill gets well, the dynamic and power shift in the relationship begins to change. In being told not to write and to only rest, the woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper" was kept in a sort of prison from which she began to feel she had no escape.
Works Cited: Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism Second Edition. New York:Norton, 2010. Print. Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight :Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Norton Anthology. Gilbert, Sandra and Gubar, Susan.The Madwoman in the Attic, Chapter Two. Norton Anthology.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Put That Coffee Down" Analysis #4 (Marxism)

In the clip from the movie "Glengarry Glen Ross" the principles of Marxism are illustrated in the real estate office when Alec Baldwin gives his motivational speech. Alec Baldwin is personified as the Bourgeois, and the salesmen are the Proletarians in this company. As Karl Marx states in "The Communist Manifesto", "The Bourgeoisie, whenever it has got the upper hand, has put and end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors," and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self interest, than callous "cash payment"(659). It has "resolved personal worth into exchange value"(659). Nowhere is this more evident than in this clip from the movie. In attempting to intimidate the salesmen, Alec Baldwin insults, undermines and demoralizes them. It is apparent to the men that they are nothing to the company unless they are able to produce. He is very clear when he tells them "If You can't close the sale, hit the bricks and beat it. You are going out"(Glengarry Glen Ross). The salesmen are aware that they are close to being unemployed unless they are able to bring in (produce) more income for the company. There is no loyalty, no reward for past performance, no allowance made for difficult times. The patriarchal/feudal relationship between worker and landowner of the Middle Ages is nonexistent.That lifelong relationship no longer exists in today's world. As Karl Marx states, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles"(657). This class struggle can be seen in this clip in the office as we observe the interaction between the salesmen and Alec Baldwin. He cares about one thing and one thing only; making money. The outward trappings of his success, the Rolex watch and the B.M.W. are the ways he defines himself. The photos on the salesmen's desks and the fact that they have children and families, means nothing to him. The important thing to him is to "ABC", that is Always Be Closing. In this way, he is no different from a boss at a factory who would fire a worker who was injured on the assembly line and could no longer perform their duties. The worker was no longer productive, and therefore no longer useful. As Marx states, "Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat"(658). This clip is a perfect example of this theory. Many of these same issues are being examined today in the light of our changing economy and the way business is being conducted. Many companies are going out of state and out of the country to conduct business in areas that are less costly with an inexpensive labor force. Work Cited. Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. The Norton Anthology Of Theory And Criticism Second Edition. New York:Norton, 2010. Print. "Glengarry Glen Ross" You Tube

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Analysis #3 "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

In the movie, "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House", the Blandings decide to move away from the city and find the perfect house. One problem after another arises until they decide to build a new house from the ground up. In the process of building the house, the project becomes larger and larger and more expensive. At the end of the film, they are broke, but they have the house of their dreams. How does this contrast with our views of home ownership in today's world? Many of us will never be homeowners, spending our lives in rented apartments, condominiums, or houses. Many people in the real estate market today are in danger of losing their homes because they bought houses that they really could not afford to own. The loans being made were interest only and when the housing market changed for the worse, they were left with a mortgage with a rising interest rate that they could no longer afford. Since very few, if any payments had been made toward the principal on the house, soon they were"upside down" when the bottom fell out of the market.The "dream house" was now worth less than what it originally cost to purchase. Couple this scenario with the rising unemployment and you have a large group of people who may never have the satisfaction of owning a home. The question worth asking is this? Does everyone deserve to own a house? If one lived in the city of New York, one would be quite content to spend their life in an apartment, and never dream of owning a home. How would Sigmund Freud analyze the dream thought and the dream content in regard to home ownership in our world today? Freud states "The dream-thoughts and the dream-content are presented to us like two versions of the same subject matter in two different languages"(819). How is one able to translate the dream as it relates to us today? Conversely, how does the theory of the Oedipus Complex enter into this discussion? Do we want to attain home ownership because we feel that we deserve it, or is there an underlying competition to do better than one's Father? Freud states that the words of the chorus in "Oedipus Rex" "strikes as a warning at ourselves and our pride"(816). Something to consider when one decides where and how to live.

"Works Cited"

Leitch, Vincent B. Ed.
The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism Second Ed. New York: Norton, 2010. Print.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 21, 2010 , Analysis #2 "Mother"

The woman in this painting could be anyone, from anywhere. It is likely this was

from a time period when family portraits were commonly done, so it could be from fifty

to over one hundred years old. There is an indication that the subject comes from a privileged

background due to her style of dress, hair and the setting of the portrait. While she is not

smiling there is an air of serenity about her and we can sense that she is a person who is

accustomed to the finer things in life. It is difficult to determine the age of the woman from the

painting, so actually she may be a young lady. The eyes give nothing away, and one cannot tell if

they are sad or merely uninterested in the process of sitting for a portrait. From the background

of the painting, it is difficult to detect more clues due to its abstract nature.The body language of

the woman suggests an air of repose, indicating leisure pursuits as opposed to work.

In analyzing this painting from the perspective of Structuralism, Ferdinand De Saussure would

look at the relationship between the "signified" and the "signifier" to find that they can be

viewed as a symbol of a culture, that of "Mother". "The signifier( sound- image) and the signified

(concept), brought inseparably together like the two sides of a sheet of paper"(847). These two,

when combined together constitute the sign. The sign, in this case is the Mother, as we have

led to think of her in our culture.

Works Cited
Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Second Edition. New York:
Norton, 2010. Print.