The Duality of Human Nature in James’ The Turn of the Screw

Literature / April 23, 2015 / No Comments /
A look at how, in James’ novel, children’s beauty is a symbol of the spiritual perfection of which man is capable and how demons are both agents of damnation and representatives of what the children may become in the future if they do not follow the path

“Although Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw has been popular since its publication as a classic ghost story, it also teaches a lesson about the true nature of mankind. It is the blend of desirable and undesirable qualities that characterizes humanity. To be capable of salvation, man must also be capable of damnation, but he has the ability to choose his own path. This critical essay delves deep into the literary and religious symbolism that manifests as the children fall victim to the corruption of evil. James leaves open to interpretation whether or not the children are ever freed from their internal evil, but the angel fiend antithesis throughout the novel demonstrates the dual possibilities of all humanity. In a symbolic sense, the characters in The Turn of the Screw are representative of a larger group. The ghosts are in fact a manifestation of all that is evil and corrupt, and the children represent all of humanity. Even the names themselves have a representative quality: Miles the soldier, the archetypal male, and Flora the flower, the essential female (Kimbrough 218). The real subject of the novel is the dual nature of man, who may in fact be inherently `good,` but he is susceptible to the temptations that lead into the realm of evil. The children’s beauty is a symbol of the spiritual perfection of which man is capable. The demons are both agents of damnation and representatives of what the children may become in the future if they do not follow the path to salvation. Thus, the elemental conflict is the struggle between good and evil to possess the human soul. ”


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