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Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw” Essay

At first glance, it would appear that Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw” and Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” have only one thing in common: they are both from the gothic genre. But upon looking closer, one will notice that there are a number of other similar traits between the two. There are noticeable similarities between Edward and the Governess, as well as similarities between Edward and the two children in The Turn of the Screw, Miles and Flora. There are also general themes which the two share – images of a “perfect” society, as well as onlookers who have no control over the situation.

Both “The Turn of the Screw” and “Edward Scissorhands” have many traditional features of the gothic genre. However, when compared to each other, it is found that “The Turn of the Screw” has more of the ‘traditional’ gothic elements. These include things such as the mysterious setting; an atmosphere of mystery and suspense that is present throughout the entire novel; visions, which are a regular occurrence for the Governess; supernatural events – such as the ‘ghosts’ and the ‘possessions’ of the children; high emotion; women threatened by males, which is found on the many occasions in which the Governess feels threatened by Quint; and there are many instances in which the women of the novel are in distress. In spite of this, a number of these elements can also be found in Edward Scissorhands, if not to a lesser extent.

These include elements such as the setting – while the entire movie does not take place in a ‘gothic setting’, there are times where the viewer is able to see Edward’s original home – a mysterious, gloomy castle; an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, which is an underlying theme throughout the movie; visions – to some extent – experienced by the Boggs’ neighbour; and supernatural events – largely, the overall creation of Edward. Other elements that are similar between the two are women in distress – in Edward Scissorhands, this is largely Kim; and women threatened by males – shown in scenes with Kim and her threatening boyfriend, Jim.

There are not only similarities between the overall genre of The Turn of the Screw and Edward Scissorhands, but between the characters as well. There are striking similarities between the Governess, the narrator of the book, and Edward, the main character of the movie. One of the most prominent is that neither of these lead characters have much experience in the ‘real world’, as is evident through their actions and words. However, the Governess and Edward deal with this in different ways. Edward is generally dazed and confused about everything. Nevertheless, Edward is willing to learn, and is open to being taught.

In contrast, the Governess reacts to her lack of experience by acting as though she is knowledgeable. She is unwilling to try other methods, and refuses to listen to others who might know better. Both characters were also taught the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Edward is taught this by the inventor, while the Governess is taught this through both her upbringing, and by her father. Both Edward and the Governess are taught this in theory, but have never experienced it in practice – that is, they have never been able to apply the idea of right and wrong to the real world.

Additionally, there are a number of similarities between Edward, and the two children, Miles and Flora. Both have overbearing female or ‘mother’ figures in their lives. In Edward’s case, this is his ‘foster’ mother, Peg, who tends to be more caring towards him, and looks out for him. In the children’s case, this is the Governess. However, unlike Peg, the Governess coddles the children, spending all her time with them and not letting them out of her sight. Both of them are also blamed for something which they didn’t do, or which never happened. Edward is framed for the robbery and murder, which had the potential to get him in trouble with the law. This was a deliberate blame and set up. On the other hand, Miles and Flora were accused of seeing ghosts, and lying about it. However, in contrast to Edward’s situation, we never know whether this actually happened – but either way, it wasn’t a deliberate setup.

There are even more similarities between Edward and the two children. Both of these characters are abandoned by their ‘father figure’. In Edward’s case, this is in the death of his inventor. Because of this, Edward has to learn to cope for himself, and as a result, is confused about how to act correctly. This differs to Miles and Flora – though their parents die, and their uncle effectively abandons him, they still have people who are willing to look after them, such as Mrs Grose and the Governess. They are also both idealised by the people around them. The community idealises Edward – he is treated as a phase, the latest craze. They have preconceived notions of him, but don’t take the time to get to know him and see if they’re actually true. In the children’s case, this is where the Governess idealises Miles and Flora.

She imagines them to be so perfect and innocent, but she doesn’t take the time to get to know them. Because of this, when they act differently to the behaviour she expects of them, she thinks something is wrong. Edward and Miles are both seen to have ‘dangerous’ characters, and because of this they eventually become shunned or kicked out – though the extent to which this happen differs. Miles is seen as a ‘danger’ to the other children, and is kicked out of his school, but he is not rejected or shunned overall, just from one place. In contrast, Edward is eventually shunned by society as a whole because they don’t understand him. As a result of this, he is rejected by society, and becomes an outcast.

The narrative structure of the two texts is also quite similar. Both of them are told by a female, and in the first person. This viewpoint makes the story seem more personal, as it gives the reader or the viewer a better insight into what really took place. Both stories also start off in the present tense, with someone talking about the events which had previously taken place, before going into an account of the story. However, in The Turn of the Screw, we never go back to the original setting, whereas in Edward Scissorhands we are taken back to the original storyteller to finish the story. In both instances, it also gives the feel of the storyteller holding onto the secret, and waiting for the right time and place to finally tell their story to a willing audience.

There are a number of general things which are common in both the texts. One of these is that both The Turn of the Screw and Edward Scissorhands have onlookers that have no control over the story, and don’t fully understand what is going on. In Edward Scissorhands, the onlooker is Kim – Peg’s daughter – who is a silent observer, and unsure as to what is happening. In The Turn of the Screw, this onlooker is Mrs Grose. Mrs Grose has no control over the actions of any of the other characters, and is forced to sit back and watch as the events take place around her, not fully knowing what is going on. Another theme common in both texts, as well as being common in the gothic genre, is the idea of a woman being threatened by a powerful, impulsive, controlling male.

In The Turn of the Screw, this is Quint, who, though dead, makes the Governess feel threatened. In Edward Scissorhands, the male is Jim – Kim’s boyfriend. She feels threatened by his actions, and especially at his reaction to Edward. But the most obvious similarity between the two texts is that both have a “perfect society”, which slowly falls away, leaving the reader with an image of a very tainted place. In Edward Scissorhands, the community that he lives in is regarded as perfect, with everyone being accepting of him. However, as the story progresses, the perfect image falls away and we are left with a community that is biased and judgemental. In The Turn of the Screw, it first appears as though everything is perfect – particularly the beauty of Bly, and the children’s characters, but we soon learn that it isn’t.

Overall, while there are some aspects of the texts which are entirely different, there are too many similarities for one to say that they are not alike in some way. These similarities are shown in a number of areas – in the genre, the narrative structure, the character’s actions and thoughts, as well as the overall themes and ideas which are introduced. However, whether The Turn of the Screw and Edward Scissorhands are similar or entirely different, they are both classic examples of the gothic genre of fiction.

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