Role Analysis: The Turn Of The Screw

Submitted By Shereen-Skola Siewer
Words: 1002
Pages: 5

Shereen Siewert
Professor Ellen Bluestone
Literature 500
13 March 2015
The Turn of the Screw: A Character Role Analysis Russian formalist Vladimir Propp identified seven possible character roles, called spheres of action, that are commonly found in Russian folk tales and other narrative works. Using Propp’s theory about roles, each character in the Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw, can fit into at least one of Propp’s defined roles, though several characters fall into more than one category. Formalists, including Propp, theorized that all literary works can be fully understood without taking outside historical, societal or other contexts into consideration. To that end, formalists looked for specific patterns and symbols within a literary work (CITATION HERE). Specifically, Propp looked to similarities both in plot line and in character roles within a given narrative and describes 31 functions, all of which are the building blocks of effective storytelling. Character types were broken down into seven distinct roles, which he called “spheres of action (Barry 221). For Propp, the characters represent the mechanism through which a story is told. To extract those functions, however, Propp writes that it is first necessary to define them (Rivkin and Ryan 73). The seven spheres of action, as defined by Propp, include the villain, the donor, the helper, the princess and her father, the dispatcher, the hero, and the false hero (Barry 221). Although the Henry James novella is not folklore in its most traditional sense, but rather an example of a narrative from the realism movement, the seven spheres of action can still be used to analyze the characters within the story. What is particularly interesting about role interpretation in this narrative is that several of the characters seem to fit in more than one role, partly because their motives remain in question throughout. The role of dispatcher is reserved for the one who sends the hero off on his or her quest, and the uncle, the man who employs the governess to care for the children, fits this role. He is the character who posted the ad to hire a governess following the death of the children’s previous caregiver and the one who sets the chain of events in motion. Mrs. Grose fills two possible roles. As the helper, she is the confidante and companion of the governess. She could also be seen as a helper to the children, because she has a tendency to defend them to the governess when their innocence and motives are questioned. In addition, mrs. Grosse could be seen as the donor, because she is the one who provides the governess with key details about the ghosts the governess claims to see, explaining whose spirits they represent. Loosely, we can see Flora and Miles as princesses, because they are the two characters the governess seeks to rescue from evil. In addition, by winning the hearts of the children, attaching herself to them, and protecting them from perceived harm, the governess intends to win the heart of the uncle she is in love with. If she fails in her quest to keep the children safe, she will undoubtedly lose the respect and the love of the uncle. Both children are a bit of an enigma, but the reader does wonder if Miles is really a villain in the story. The reader knows that he has been sent away from school, but there is little information as to why. There are many passages and ominous signs that seem to hint that this sweet young child is something more sinister. When the governess discovers Miles outside, he asks her to think of him as bad, yet referring to his use of the word “bad,” she says, “I shall never forget the sweetness and gaiety with which he brought out the word, nor how, on top of it, he bent forward and kissed me” (James 55). The governess, the central character of the story and by far the most complex,