In “The Turn of the Screw” Henry James uses a narrative technique which makes the novel interesting as well as very convincing. Though, the novel is a ghost story, we sometimes forget that it is a ghost story and begin to believe what happens in this story. The credit for the achievement goes to the narrative technique used by the narrator. He uses the frame narrative structure, the first person point of view and the flash back technique.
The Turn of the Screw is unusual in that it has two narrators. One exists only in the prologue. That first narrator, who is nameless, describes the scene in an old house where a number of houseguests are telling ghost stories. He then introduces a guest, Douglas, who tells the others about the governess. The rest of the tale is Douglas's reading of the governess's story.
The governess is considered the principal narrator, and the story is told from her point of view. She is also the central character through whose eyes we see the story. James gives her thoughts and perceptions directly, and presents them through her conversations with Mrs. Grose. Mrs. Grose is what James's readers call the confidant. The confidant is a person of great sensibility or sensitivity to whom the main character reveals his or her innermost thoughts. Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw has never seen any of the apparitions, but she serves as the person to whom the governess expresses her doubts and fears. Mrs. Grose, who witnessed the whole development of the situation, then says: “What a dreadful turn, to be sure, miss! Where on earth do you see anything?”
The language of the story itself creates ambiguity. Thus, James uses the linguistic principles of structuralism which claims that the linguistic units of a text are significant to its understanding.
The Turn of the Screw is based on flashback. A flashback is a writing which occurs outside of the current timeline. It is used to explain plot elements, give background and context to a scene, or explain characteristics of characters or events. The Turn of the Screw is a story within a story. To a group of people who have been trading ghost stories, a man named Douglas reads a personal account written by his sister's governess years before. His reading of this "horrible" story is prefaced by some facts about the governess's background.
Telling The Turn of the Screw from the point of view of its main participant has an enormous effect. In fact, it's the main reason for the sense of mystery surrounding the story. James develops the principles of the genre such as the treatment of the narrator's point of view in order to create a structurally-embedded ambiguity. The central situation in The Turn of the Screw involves the governess’ view of her charges. The governess is now narrating the story and that all impressions and descriptions come from her viewpoint. Everything in the novel is aimed at the central situation, but he moves toward the center by exploring all the related matters. In other words, the structure could be best described by a series of circles around the center. Each circle is an event that illuminates the center, but highlights only a part of it. Each circle then is often a discussion by several different people.
The governess’ story opens on the day she arrives at her new position. Her charges—Miles and Flora—are perfect little children who would apparently never cause anyone any trouble. She grows very fond of them in spite of the fact that little Miles has been discharged from his school. In discussing this occurrence, the governess and Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, decide that little Miles was just too good for a regular school.
The governess loves her position and her children, and she secretly wishes that her handsome employer could see how well she is doing. At the evening she often strolls through the grounds and mediates on the beauty of her surroundings. Sometimes she wishes her employer could know how much she enjoys the place and how well she is executing her duties. One evening using her stroll, she does perceive the figure of a strange man on top of the old towers of the house. He appears rather distinct, but she is aware that he keeps his eyes on her. She feels rather disturbed without knowing why.
One Sunday as the group is preparing to go to church, the governess returns to the dining room to retrieve her gloves from the table. Inside the room she notices the strange weird face of a man staring in at her in a hard and deep manner, suddenly, she realizes that the man has “come for someone else.” Through her description Mrs Grose, the house keeper identifies him as Peter Quint, the ex-valet who has been dead for about a year.
The governess loves her position and her children, and she secretly wishes that her handsome employer could see how well she is doing. Shortly after this, she notices the form of a strange man at some distance. One day, while playing with Flora near the lake, she probably observes a figure on the other side of the lake.
One night she hears some movement outside her door and becomes alert. She opens the door and walks towards the staircase. She notices the figure of Peter Quint in the landing. From such a short distance he looks frightening.
At the stage the governess feels the heed to escape from the whole situation and run away from Bly. But she fears that the spirit might take complete possession of the children if she leaves. She decides to stay back Bly. With this intention, she returns back to the house to pack her things, she is shocked to see Miss Jessel sitting on a desk and looking at her with melancholic eyes.
One day, Miles is very happy and offers to play piano for her. The governess is delighted at the music, until she realizes that Flora is not around. Miles feigns innocence over Flora's whereabouts, so the governess seeks the aid of Mrs. Grose. Before the two women leave to search, the governess places the letter to her employer on the table for one of the servants to mail. The governess and Mrs. Grose go to the lake, where they find the boat missing. After walking around the lake, the governess finds Flora and, for the first time, asks her bluntly where Miss Jessel is. The governess points to the image of Miss Jessel as proof that the specter exists, but Mrs. Grose and Flora claim to see nothing. The ghost appears to the governess; however, Mrs. Grose sees nothing and sides with Flora, who also says that she sees nothing and never has.
James is a very careful artist who uses the technique of foreshadowing a later action. This means that he has given hints in the early parts of the novel about some important thing that is going to happen later in the story. Thus, so many things have foreshadowed the main action that the reader should not be surprised to discover the action at the end.
In The Turn of the Screw, there is every type of indication that sooner or later the governess will confront the children with the presence of one of the apparitions. When she confronts Flora with the presence of Miss Jessel, the little girl becomes sick. As a result, we are prepared to accept the fact that Miles will die from his exposure to the apparition of Peter Quint. Thus, James uses foreshadowing to prepare the reader for the climactic events of the story.
The next morning, the governess finds out from Mrs. Grose that Flora was struck with a fever during the night and that she is terrified of seeing the governess. However, Mrs. Grose does say that the governess was justified in her suspicions of Flora, because the child has started to use evil language. The governess encourages Mrs. Grose to take Flora to her uncle's house for safety and also so that she can try to gain Miles's allegiance in his sister's absence.
The governess and Miles stay in the house alone. They sit to have a meal which is dominated by silence, the maid cleaning the dishes being the only sound heard. When the governess and Miles discuss the matter of whether he took a letter she had written the day before from the hall table it was Quint who appeared in "his white face of damnation", looking intently at her like "a sentential before a prison". Her main concern at this moment is to protect the boy; it was like "fighting with a demon for a human soul". The apparition still has his eyes fixed on the governess and the boy, lurking like "a baffled beast." But the governess gathers her strength and is determined to face it. He suddenly disappears. She then asks Miles about what he did to result in his being expelled from school, and they have a very long conversation. Eventually she is able to get the truth out of him. He also admits to stealing a letter that the governess had finally decided to send to his uncle. During their talk, Quint's ghost reappears to the governess. Miles ask if it is Miss Jessel, but she forces him to admit that it is Peter Quint. He turns suddenly around to look and falls in her arms. The governess clutches him, but instead of a triumph she discovers that she is holding Miles’ dead body.
James’ fictional techniques are admirably focused in The Turn of the Screw. James adopts a highly emotional, somewhat melodramatic, and intensely personal tone in writing the Governess's narrative.