The Turn of the Screw

Using Barthes to Explain "Turn of the Screw"

In S/Z, Roland Barthes so thoroughly maps out his narrative theory that he leaves little room for problematic tales such as Turn of the Screw. While Barthes' example text Sarrasine revolves around a central unknown - the identity of the strange old man from the party - it differs from Henry James' text in that the former is grounded in real-life events and traceable history (albeit a fictional one). Turn of the Screw, in contrast, is difficult to categorize using Barthes' plan because it exists in the realm of the inexplicable: a world of ghosts, psychosis, and suspect imagination.

S/Z was supposedly written to debunk the notion of realism, to prove that a narrative, like a painting, statue or play, is merely a pastiche of some long-lost original. However, for all his efforts, Barthes fails to acknowledge the shadowy spectrum into which Turn of the Screw falls - a spectrum where narratives originate in fantasy, not in the tangible historical topos of cultural, semic and symbolic voices from which Barthes claims a final narrative product is woven. Stories where even a basic level of veracity cannot be confirmed, where characters, events and references may be entirely fabricated, become a jumble of perverted...

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