Starting The Turn of the Screw and drafting your first paper

Posted in prompts at 10:54 am by Dominique

Hi all,

While we don’t have a formal midterm for this class, we have reached the midway point of the semester (congratulations!); that said, we all have a busy weekend in front of us. Please set aside a solid portion of time this weekend to complete two important pieces of work for this course:  first, you’ll read the introductory material and the beginning of Henry James’s novella through the start of Book X (pages 1-68). Secondly, a full five-page draft of your first paper is due in the Dropbox folder before class on Tuesday. When creating this draft, please keep in mind that you are testing out what you proposed this week. If you find that your critical lens is not leading you to connections and insights across your three passages, or that your motivating question is something you can’t answer in a five-page paper of this kind, please don’t forge ahead blindly: this is the time to reflect on and revise your approach, if necessary. I’ve asked some of you to contact me in my comments on your proposals, and so expect to hear from a few of you this weekend.

On the draft due before the start of Tuesday’s class…

Please keep the two things I mentioned in class in your mind as you write:

1) No writing is easy, especially critical analyses of literary texts. You will hit road blocks where you’ve forgotten why you’re writing or don’t know what to say. That is okay! Step back, return to the assignment sheet and to your proposal, then turn back to the text itself. Reconnect with your sense of purpose: what are you trying to understand about this text? are you continually defining and developing your approach as you write? are you using the resources available to you to guide you through this task (e.g. class notes, the Bressler book, the models of critical analysis in the back of Heart of Darkness)?

2) The draft should adopt the following rhythm: set up the significance of an excerpt or scene in relation to your motivating question, cite the excerpt or summarize the scene, present an analysis. Don’t worry to much about composing a stellar intro and conclusion at this point. The analysis should draw our attention to particular language, implications, and/or thematic associations between scenes, noting the issues that would stand out to a critic using your particular approach and thinking about how such an approach helps us to understand the meaning of the passage within the work as a whole. I am not evaluating the draft on how assertively you insist on an idea but on how carefully was you go about interacting with the passage you’ve chosen and applying the types of questions that a Deconstructionist, New Historicist, Post-colonialist, or Reader-oriented critic, etc., would pursue.

(**A note on quoting: if you have chosen an excerpt that is more than five lines, please indent the text and include it on a new line. You should not be citing much more than five lines of text at a time, even if the excerpt you indicated is longer: please pick out the most crucial language that will allow you to illustrate your claim about the passage and then summarize the rest of the scene briefly.)

On The Turn of the Screw

Edward Mendoza and Nadia Bhagwandin have volunteered to be our main bloggers for this week. Their posts of 500-550 words, submitted by midnight on Monday, will consider the first half of the text through a psychoanalytic approach. They may address any one of the following sets of questions in relation to James’s novella (these questions, of course, might be applied in a psychoanalytic reading of any text, not just this one):

  • What kind of characteristics do the characters portray? Do whole characters (or elements of them) fit into Freud’s distinctions between the id, ego, and superego? Where do these elements come up in the course of the narrative?
  • Think about the characters’ speech and narrative voice. Are there strange phrasings or slips in logic or meaning? Are these moments conscious and intentional, or are they unconscious? If they are unconscious, are there other moments in the text that seem to unconsciously reveal themselves? (For this question, try to consider word choices, repetitions, and omissions in the text.)
  • Pay special attention to the way the characters interact with one another. Do they do so as a reader might expect? Are there unexpected interactions (e.g. does a child act more like a parent, a servant like a therapist, etc.)? Are confessions made? Is information withheld?
  • Are there notable characters in the novel who are no longer present (i.e. does the memory of those characters or some action they performed seem to loom over the story or over a particular character in some way)? How do you account for the continued importance of these characters? What might they do or inhibit, psychically, for those characters who remain?
  • Are there specific elements in the text that either the characters or narrative itself seem unable to speak about? Perhaps disturbing kinds of knowledge that might need to be repressed? (Think specifically about questions of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, or other issues that it might be difficult to raise socially even within a family setting.)
  • Does the work chart the emotional, psychical or (socially-based) educational development of any character? If so, how does that development take place? Are there appropriate psychological models (Lacan’s “mirror stage,” for instance) for how the character comes to know him/herself and the world?
  • Where is desire in the text? Are desires articulated (spoken about, gestured to, acted on?) or do they remain repressed and unspoken?

Commentators, who will post comments of 150-200 words by midnight on Wednesday, may offer additional thoughts on the questions the bloggers have addressed or choose questions that have not yet been answered. Please be sure to indicate which question you are answering in your post!

Though the work load in getting heavier, this is an exciting and important time in our semester together. I have a lot of confidence in what you will be able to create over these next few days.  Good luck!


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