Gothic – Turn of the Screw and Shutter Island
A value common in many gothic texts is that of the role of women, who are generally demonstrated as weak and incapable, especially in difficult and unfamiliar circumstances. In “The Turn of the Screw,” for example, the governess and even Mrs Grose are determined to protect and mother the children yet; ironically, they cannot even go as far as to protect themselves mentally.
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Correspondingly, in “Shutter Island,” it is implied that Teddy’s psychological insecurity is only there due to the trauma his manic depressive wife caused on him. Like how the governess potentially negatively influenced the children, Teddy’s wife also potentially negatively influenced her husband. And all this is due to the personal psychological feebleness of these two women, thus emphasizing the gothic value of the weakness of women. A second notable value is that of the role of religion.
In “The Turn of the Screw,” for example, when the household is on the way to church, a place stereotypically filled with goodness, little Miles questions the governess about when he will be returning to school in a way that is so innocent and oblivious that it is almost sadistic, since it is obviously implied that he was expelled for a somewhat felonious act. This irony, the very fact that they are approaching a church and Miles is considerable sinner, emphasizes the little influence that God has on the evil and hence makes the gothic seem even more horrendous. Shutter Island,” on the other hand, does not obviously link in the role of religion with things like church, prayers and so forth. However, director Scorsese is, in background, a Catholic man and for this film, he embodies a valuable religious lesson. That rebellion towards God through violence can only lead to the severe emotional downward spiral of oneself. Gothic texts contain many mutual tropes. The unknown is one of them and both texts begin with an immediate indication for it. The Governess of “The Turn of the Screw” accepts the job offer at Bly, taking herself out of her usual comfort zone.
This instantly places her in a vulnerable position, especially emotionally, where her future is indefinite. Similarly, in “Shutter Island,” the protagonist, Teddy, arrives at the unfamiliar Shutter Island. He too, is taken out of his usual comfort zone. The very fact that he is at this island to do investigations immediately creates a sense of the unknown. Hence, both central characters are in strange environments without direct control of their own lives. The question of reality – it plants anxiety into the audience especially as both texts, to some extent, carry out prolonged rhetorical questions.
Is what reality to the protagonist reality is at all? Will we ever really know? For example, in “The Turn of the Screw,” only the Governess claims to see the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Perhaps the other members of the household can see the alleged ghosts but are unwilling to confirm it or perhaps the ghosts just don’t exist at all and are simply a result of the governess’ own mental instability. Similarly, in “Shutter Island,” reality is often questioned. As Teddy’s investigations precede further, the audience’s original perception of what is reality on Shutter Island becomes somewhat fallacious.
This is especially true towards the end of the film where we discover that Teddy’s life is essentially a lie, a game. However, contrasting “The Turn of the Screw,” the question of reality is eventually somewhat solved at the conclusion of the film where we learn that Teddy is a dangerously mentally ill man himself. Therefore, the question of reality in both texts effectively raises doubt in the audience and by stripping away the reliability of reality, this is in turn, the most horrific thing – the ambiguous is gothic to humans.
This hence brings forth the next point of which is ambiguity, a language technique common in the gothic genre. In James’ text, ambiguity is consistent, such as, but definitely not limited to, the fact that the existence of ghosts is never confirmed and the true reason why Miles was asked to leave his school was never revealed. By James’ lack of divulging absolutely everything, and by leaving no solution to the ambiguity, the tale is filled with unrest and surreptitious violence, forcing the audience to feel uncomfortable and fearful of the unknown.
Similarly, in “Shutter Island,” many questions are left unanswered. For example, when Teddy first arrives on the island, an old mental woman holds a finger to her lips and indicates for him to shush. This is deliberately ambiguous as it immediately indicates the existence of a secret, something of the unknown. Despite the fact that a solution is given to the ambiguity at the end of the film, “Shutter Island” finishes on an elevated note. After discovering the truth bout himself, Teddy says one final thing – “Is it better to live as a monster, or die as a good man? ” This does not reveal whether or not Teddy finally accepts the reality of himself being mentally ill or whether he has regressed into his own fantasy and denial again. It also leaves the audience themselves with a tormenting question that has no definite black and white answer. All this ambiguity leaves an uncomfortable amount of room for the imagination of the audience, therefore producing a terrifying and overwhelming sense of uncertainty.
This ambiguity can also be directly linked with another trope present in both these two texts which is in regards to the stereotypical, and usually well-accepted, distinction and definition of the hero and the villain (trope). Due to the ambiguity present in the text, the governess of “The Turn of the Screw” appears to be fabricated with possible mental instability and her attempt to guard the children from the supernatural is potentially ultimately the bane to them – with Flora leaving Bly sick and frenzied and Miles demise.
This poses the question – was the governess the hero or the villain? Did she successfully protect the children from the supernatural or was her mental insecurity the cause of the children’s suffering? In “Shutter Island,” Teddy arrives as a U. S. Marshal – the hero, on a mission to solve a mystery. But when the truth begins to reveal about Teddy’s dark past, the audience is made to question whether or not he is actually the villain for killing his wife who killed their three children or if he was the hero for seeking justified revenge for his beloved kids.
This ambiguous and blurred distinction between a hero and villain is used in gothic texts to emphasize and challenge the feebleness of human beings and this uncertainty only makes the gothic seem more terrifying. Most gothic texts embody the trope of unspeakable violence to emphasize the horror present. In “The Turn of the Screw,” it is present in the undefined “corruption” of the children. Miles and Peter Quint’s relations were never made clear but it was to the fear of the governess that while he was still alive, Peter Quint sexually corrupted the innocence of little Miles.
This sickeningly wrong sexual relationship creates a psychologically gothic element as it is universally ethically unacceptable. Scarier than merely rumoured ghosts, it is a horror that can actually occur in everyday life. In “Shutter Island,” unspeakable violence is present in relation to revenge and guilt. For Teddy, revenge consumed him and caused him to kill and the guilt of his sin caused him to sink further into mental instability, suffocating in staggering denial.
This unspeakable violence present in gothic texts emphasizes the conquering influence of violence and hence, human self-control seems disturbingly microscopic. As in all gothic literature, symbols are used to emphasize and assist in the formation of the values presented within a text. For example, in “The Turn of the Screw,” candlelight and darkness symbolize safety and unsafety respectively. For instance, whenever the governess’ candle is blown out, it is a suggestion that danger is about. On a similar note, fire is a symbol in “Shutter Island. Every time Teddy is around a fire, he hallucinates – it is a symbol of his insane fantasy word. On the other hand, water symbolizes Teddy’s reality. His wife drowns his children in water and every time Teddy is near it, he feels physically sick. The symbol of a ship on a sea is also commonly known within gothic stories to demonstrate a sense of being lost in a vast, empty, unpredictable environment. Even in the famous “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, this symbol is explored where there are helpless victims on a ship. They have no way for calling for help – who will hear them?
And both “The Turn of the Screw” and “Shutter Island” demonstrate a usage for this symbol. The opening scene for “Shutter Island” is a view of a large ship on an empty sea, sailing towards an unpredictable location. In “The Turn of the Screw,” the metaphor of a ship on a sea is extended throughout the novella with the governess referring to Bly as a “great drifting ship. ” Even later in the text, she envisions Miles “at the bottom of the sea. ” Finally, children are often used within gothic texts to signify purity and truth, and to be used to emphasize the evil of the world.
In the “Turn of the Screw,” the children substantiate the amount of influence that the malicious have. Either, when they were still alive, Peter Quint and Ms Jessel’s influence on them turned them somewhat evil at heart or the Governess has completely petrified them with her obsessiveness with the supernatural. Correspondingly, in “Shutter Island,” Teddy’s daughter appears in his dreams constantly, saying, “You should have saved me. ” Despite the fact that Teddy struggles in two worlds – fantasy and reality – his daughter represents the truth.
She is the one thing Teddy cannot deny or forget. In conclusion, “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James and “Shutter Island” by Martin Scorsese demonstrate conformation to the conventions of gothic literature, embody crucial values that question the role of women and religion, and utilize symbols and techniques to establish a meaningful plot. But they are not just your typical ghost stories – they are spiritual and psychological essays, exploring the mysteries and terrors of not some external apparition, but the internal horror and war of oneself.