What Is Truth? Or Whose Perspective Is Correct?

         The concept of reality seems intuitive, but it is notoriously difficult to define. Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, and Jack Clayton's 1961 film adaptation, The Innocents, perfectly illustrate the fine line between reality and illusion. It is up to the spectator to define what is real and what is not. Therefore, these two works would be excellent for a presentation on the nature of reality.

         The exact nature of reality has been debated for thousands of years. Plato argued that reality cannot be determined through the senses in his "Allegory of the Cave." Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" in John 18:38. More recently, some have taken the philosophical position that truth depends on perspective. The position that truth depends on perspective, known as deconstructionism, holds that two people can witness the same event and honestly have two different accounts of reality. Nowhere is this more true than in The Turn of the Screw.

         In learning this, the students would be asked to define reality from several of the characters' perspectives. Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), the governess in the film, can see herself defending her innocent charges against the immoral ghosts--Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop). Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) might see the governess stirred up only trouble, as an intruder would. The children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin), can see the ghosts as rescuers from boredom. In working through this book and film, the students would, one hopes, realize that it is impossible to ascertain which version of reality is more real than any of the others.

         During the discussion, the students would certainly wonder if objective reality did exist in this story. As the story is written, James does not clearly define what is objectively true and what exists only in the characters' minds. A neutral observer's perspective does not exist; thus it is impossible to say which version is more real since James does not provide for such.

         The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents provide an excellent look at the often fuzzy distinctions between reality and illusion. The ghosts' existence hinges upon whose perspective is utilized. This uncertainty provides a creepiness that would not be possible otherwise. A clearly defined danger evokes less fear than a nameless terror. Today's students could certainly benefit from an esoteric look at the nature of reality through The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents.

Rebekah Ruppel

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