New Critical and Structural Analyses: Henry James’ ‘The Turn of the Screw’



Link to Henry James’ 1898 Story, The Turn of the Screw:

Around the end of the nineteenth century a substantive change in thinking occurred, particularly as it pertains to views of literature of the United States and Europe. A predominance of analysis of the period tended to place greater importance on the historical, philosophical and social extrinsic implications of works of literature, rather than examine them on the value on their content in its standalone mastery. Crossing over into the twentieth century, this was identified first through Russian Formalism by great scholars such as Victor Schlovsky, Vladimir Propp and Boris Eichenbaum. Evolving from this emerged the further refinement of New Critical Analysis from the likes of T. S. Eliot which involves what he calls the ‘objective correlative’ as a way of identifying a written works expression of internal emotion through the use of symbolism. Taking the development of intrinsic analysis even further, Structuralism emerged as means of identifying motifs and recurrent patterns that together establish an internal framework, or structure, to a work. (Bertens, 383)

The style presented in Henry James’ story The Turn of the Screw is relatively unique within its genre for two notable reasons, but for also a multiplicity of subsequent grounds. In a brief letter to H. G. Wells dated December 9th, 1898, James describes a defining reference to what he would call in the same letter a ‘fairy tale’ as he sheds insight into the persona of the main character, the governess.

grotesque business…to make her picture and childish psychology I had to make her trace and present…in which absolute lucidity and logic, a singleness of effect, were imperative . . . rule out subjective complications and keep her impersonal”

(Kimbrough 111)

The importance of understanding the trajectory of transformation that transpires within the character of the governess over the arc of the story is fundamental to understanding the story itself. From a Formalist New Critical and Structural aspect, the subjectivity of transition within her is key to all stages of the story’s development and interweave of device use.

An intrinsic Formalist understanding includes observations of deeper internal elements of meaning, construct and accomplish through identifying various literary devices and forms including tone, imagery, symbolism, defamiliarization, plot and story distinction, and characterization as it relates specifically to genre. Within a formal context, an overlapping structural ethic also emerges symbolically patterned, as it relates to mystical, spiritual, psychoanalytical, idealistic and moralistic interpretation, both concretely and in the abstract.

Closely linked to the forms and use of mechanical device Formalist analysis yields, Structural analysis requires we extend our understanding into the semiotic concept of signs and symbols, representations of a greater metalanguage found within the text, genre, intertextual relation, narrative architecture, and recurring internal design. (Erlich 199) In Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw we find a rich supply of this nonverbal structure. (Saussure Ch.3.3, par.4)

The second notable distinction Turn of the Screw has within its genre is its voice and point of view of structural narrative. Serious tone is given in the form nearly of a disclaimer for the tenor, reliability and premise of the story. A groundwork of third hand recount by the narrator from a fellow named Douglas being told to an eager group as an authentic ghost story around the proverbial fire is divulged suspenseful. (Note the insertion of the term apparition. This clarifies a position going to the point of their, the ghosts, validity.)

The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless . . . in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child. The case, I may mention, was that of an apparition in just such an old house as had gathered us for the occasion—an appearance, of a dreadful kind, to a little boy sleeping in the room with his mother and waking her up in the terror of it; waking her not to dissipate his dread and soothe him to sleep again, but to encounter also, herself, before she had succeeded in doing so, the same sight that had shaken him. It was this observation that drew from Douglas—not immediately, but later in the evening—a reply that had the interesting consequence to which I call attention. Someone else told a story not particularly effective, which I saw he was not following” (James 291)

James has set a precedence of distance and credibility here that lends itself to second and third hand unreliable account, which adds an element of doubt and hesitation, serving as a device later in the story when similar doubt and hesitation emerges within the characters and the governess herself.

Continuing this removed narrative in the near introductory recount, the vague and ambiguous imagery of implied demise befalling a child is introduced early by comparison to another familiar story involving children, to which a surrogate audience around a Christmas Eve fire is gathered, in and of itself a device of inclusion and relatability. The name of the story, Turn of the Screw, derives its name from this, the addition of a second child evoked from the group of listeners an eerily eager ‘two turns of the screw’ response.

“I quite agree—in regard to Griffin’s ghost, or whatever it was—that its appearing first to the little boy, at so tender an age, adds a particular touch. But it’s not the first occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have involved a child. If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to TWO children—?” . . . “We say, of course,” somebody exclaimed, “that they give two turns! Also that we want to hear about them.” (James 291)

By initializing this predicate here, James allows for his ‘fairy tale’ to be told in the design of a ghost story, but only on the surface. Diversion is accomplished through an underlying mechanism in the use of disjointed defamiliarization. Being that death has already occurred in the narrative, of Douglas and the governess, a seemingly extrinsic parallel to a male and female deceased within draws connection. Later we learn these two figures, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, are the primary dislocation for incredulity between the living characters as they refuse to acknowledge the governess ‘seeing’ them.

“I can see Douglas there before the fire, to which he had got up to present his back, looking down at his interlocutor with his hands in his pockets. “Nobody but me, till now, has ever heard. It’s quite too horrible.” (James 292) . . . “Is in old, faded ink, and in the most beautiful hand.” He hung fire again. “A woman’s. She has been dead these twenty years. She sent me the pages in question before she died.” (James 294) . . . “Let me say here distinctly, to have done with it, that this narrative, from an exact transcript of my own made much later, is what I shall presently give. Poor Douglas, before his death—when it was in sight—committed to me the manuscript that reached him on the third of these days and that, on the same spot, with immense effect, he began to read to our hushed little circle on the night of the fourth.” (James 295)

The Turn of the Screw holds an uncommon if not entirely unique place within the genre of ghost story and gothic horror. It is correct to see it as the ‘deathless terror’ it is and less the ‘fairy tale’ James self-describes it as for the simple fact no one dies in it until the very end, and then only for implied natural cause. The terror element is achieved through the reference to death.

“And what became of him?” She hung fire so long that I was still more mystified. “He went, too,” she brought out at last . . .

“Went where?” Her expression, at this, became extraordinary. “God knows where! He died.” “Died?” I almost shrieked. She seemed fairly to square herself, plant herself more firmly to utter the wonder of it. “Yes. Mr. Quint is dead.”. . . My friend, with an odd impulse, fell back a step. “Was she someone you’ve never seen?” “Yes. But someone the child has. Someone YOU have.” Then, to show how I had thought it all out: “My predecessor—the one who died.” “Miss Jessel?” “Miss Jessel. You don’t believe me?” I pressed. She turned right and left in her distress. “How can you be sure?” This drew from me, in the state of my nerves, a flash of impatience. “Then ask Flora—SHE’S sure!” But I had no sooner spoken than I caught myself up. “No, for God’s sake, DON’T! She’ll say she isn’t—she’ll lie!” Mrs. Grose was not too bewildered instinctively to protest. “Ah, how CAN you?” (James 329)

The question of the existence of the ghosts the governess sees works to undo the ground of her credibility within the context of her hire on as governess to begin with. Predicated upon the morality and innocence of our main character the governess, a presupposition of dignity and grace is initially challenged in the abrupt awkwardness through again diversion and a rather disappointing odd manner of her charge and employ by a charming wealthy and yet estranged uncle of two children, whom he prefers not to reside with.

“He struck her, inevitably, as gallant and splendid, but what took her most of all and gave her the courage she afterward showed was that he put the whole thing to her as a kind of favor, an obligation he should gratefully incur. She conceived him as rich, but as fearfully extravagant—saw him all in a glow of high fashion, of good looks, of expensive habits, of charming ways with women. He had for his own town residence a big house filled with the spoils of travel and the trophies of the chase; but it was to his country home, an old family place in Essex, that he wished her immediately to proceed.” (James 295-6)

The recurring pattern of the governess ‘seeing’ ghosts and the other characters denying them to her establishes a growing madness the governess internally and other characters externally question as a skeletal framework the story is fleshed out on.. The governess began as a confident, vibrant and capable young woman starting out in her prime. Quickly on, her characterization digresses into an increasing desperation and doubtful disappointment. She ponders the motives of Mrs. Grose, in her care for Flora and Miles as she grapples with the meaning and magnitude of the unknown yet recurring threat of the figures of Miss Jessel and Quint.

What was settled between us, accordingly, that night, was that we thought we might bear things together; and I was not even sure that, in spite of her exemption, it was she who had the best of the burden. I knew at this hour, I think, as well as I knew later, what I was capable of meeting to shelter my pupils; but it took me some time to be wholly sure of what my honest ally was prepared for to keep terms with so compromising a contract. I was queer company enough—quite as queer as the company I received; but as I trace over what we went through I see how much common ground we must have found in the one idea that, by good fortune, COULD steady us. It was the idea, the second movement, that led me straight out, as I may say, of the inner chamber of my dread. I could take the air in the court, at least, and there Mrs. Grose could join me. Perfectly can I recall now the particular way strength came to me before we separated for the night. We had gone over and over every feature of what I had seen.” . . . “He was looking for someone else, you say—someone who was not you?” “He was looking for little Miles.” A portentous clearness now possessed me. “THAT’S whom he was looking for.” “But how do you know?” “I know, I know, I know!” My exaltation grew. “And YOU know, my dear!” She didn’t deny this, but I required, I felt, not even so much telling as that. She resumed in a moment, at any rate: “What if HE should see him?” “Little Miles? That’s what he wants!” She looked immensely scared again. “The child?” “Heaven forbid! The man. He wants to appear to THEM.” (James 322)

James plays on the quickened pace of the governess madness, yet offsets this with an injection of days and weeks mentioned. This counterbalances what an ordinary response within the governess would seem to merit on the basis of her attending the welfare of the children, but also only discovering the ‘secrets of Bly,’ the estate itself, in meted and revealed episodic fashion. As the governess learns more and more of the improprieties that surround the deaths of Quint and Miss Jessel, and especially as they relate to the children’s, namely Miles and Quint’s involvement, the pieces become increasingly clearer, yet also increasingly insidious. Everyone seems to be complicit in some way, as if an evil persists that engulfs and involves even Mrs. Grose in her believable denial of the ghosts.

“I pressed again, of course, at this. “You reminded him that Quint was only a base menial?” “As you might say! And it was his answer, for one thing, that was bad.” “And for another thing?” I waited. “He repeated your words to Quint?” “No, not that. It’s just what he wouldn’t!” she could still impress upon me. “I was sure, at any rate,” she added, “that he didn’t. But he denied certain occasions.” “What occasions?” “When they had been about together quite as if Quint were his tutor–and a very grand one–and Miss Jessel only for the little lady. When he had gone off with the fellow, I mean, and spent hours with him.” “He then prevaricated about it–he said he hadn’t?” Her assent was clear enough to cause me to add in a moment: “I see. He lied.” “Oh!” Mrs. Grose mumbled. This was a suggestion that it didn’t matter; which indeed she backed up by a further remark. “You see, after all, Miss Jessel didn’t mind. She didn’t forbid him.” I considered. “Did he put that to you as a justification?” At this she dropped again. “No, he never spoke of it.” “Never mentioned her in connection with Quint?” She saw, visibly flushing, where I was coming out. “Well, he didn’t show anything. He denied,” she repeated; “he denied.” (James 337)

The opposition to the governess’ perception of Miles, the boy in her charge, as an innocent works to offset and support their disobedience and noncompliance with her authority. This reinforces her doubts, but also a sense of loss of control and doubts about her own madness.

“He was gentleness itself, and while I wagged my head at him he stood there more than ever a little fairy prince. It was his brightness indeed that gave me a respite. Would it be so great if he were really going to tell me? “Well,” he said at last, “just exactly in order that you should do this.” “Do what?” “Think me—for a change—bad!” I shall never forget the sweetness and gaiety with which he brought out the word, nor how, on top of it, he bent forward and kissed me. It was practically the end of everything.” (James 350) . . . Then, after another embrace, the incident and our interview closed on my recognition of all the reserves of goodness that, for his joke, he had been able to draw upon. (James 351) . . . My fear was of having to deal with the intolerable question of the grounds of his dismissal from school, for that was really but the question of the horrors gathered behind. (James 363) . . . I had so perfectly expected that the return of my pupils would be marked by a demonstration that I was freshly upset at having to take into account that they were dumb about my absence. Instead of gaily denouncing and caressing me, they made no allusion to my having failed them, and I was left, for the time, on perceiving that she too said nothing, to study Mrs. Grose’s odd face. I did this to such purpose that I made sure they had in some way bribed her to silence. “Oh, yes, they asked me to say nothing; and to please them—so long as they were there—of course I promised.”(James 366)

Henry JamesH. James

Henry James reveals the character Peter Quint has been the source of turmoil and grief for the governess directly and indirectly through the children. The extent of his bad influence on them is felt and is widespread. He serves as a metaphor for all that is evil and counter to her efforts. His appearances are catalysts for the devolving of the governess spirit, sanity and confidence.

“I was so determined to have all my proof that I flashed into ice to challenge him. “Whom do you mean by ‘he’?” “Peter Quint—you devil!” (James 402) . . . He was absolutely, on this occasion, a living, detestable, dangerous presence. But that was not the wonder of wonders; I reserve this distinction for quite another circumstance: the circumstance that dread had unmistakably quitted me and that there was nothing in me there that didn’t meet and measure him. (James 342) . . . Lord, how I pressed her now! “So that you could see he knew what was between the two wretches?” “I don’t know—I don’t know!” the poor woman groaned. “You do know, you dear thing,” I replied; “only you haven’t my dreadful boldness of mind, and you keep back, out of timidity and modesty and delicacy, even the impression that, in the past, when you had, without my aid, to flounder about in silence, most of all made you miserable. But I shall get it out of you yet! There was something in the boy that suggested to you,” I continued, “that he covered and concealed their relation.” (James 336)

In conclusion, and upon our New Critical Formalism and Structuralism approaches to analyzing the internal forms, devices, symbols and framework, we can clearly observe some very unique and intricate details and qualities to Henry James’ highly debated masterpiece, especially concerning the actuality of the ghosts. It is my conclusion here the ghost are in fact real based on the previous knowledge of them by the caretaker Mrs. Grose, but also on the fact of the governess’ observations in such detail without prior knowledge being confirmed circumstantially through the children and other caretakers. It really is only through a detailed examination of these deeper structures that a suitable conclusion can be made outside of the social and historical influences that would likely have resulted in the opposite conclusion.

Ambiguity lies at the heart of the deathless supernatural psychodrama horror. If nothing else, the decision is left to the wind and the preferences of inference and deduction. Evidence supports either view of her sanity or the legitimacy of the ghosts. An undeniable transformation takes place in all the living characters at Bly, but especially in the governess. She transcends the confident and naive take charge woman we see in the beginning to a seasoned, scared and unsure yet protector and rescuer in a desperate and fleeting expediency in the end. She sincerely seeks to exercise her duty as governess over the children and fights for their safety as she perceives Quint to be an evil influence from the grave. (Wright 184)

Works Cited

James, Henry, and Perry Meisel. The Turn of the Screw, and Other Short Novels. New York: Signet Classic, 1995. Print.

James, Henry, and Robert Kimbrough. The Turn of the Screw An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Essays in Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1966. Print.

Wright, Walter Francis. The Madness of Art, a Study of Henry James. Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 1962. Print.

Erlich, Victor. Russian Formalism: History, Doctrine. Gravenhage: Mouton, 1955. Print.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics. Eds. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. Trans. Roy Harris. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court. 1983. Print.

Bertens, Johannes Willem. Literary Theory the Basics. London: Routledge, 2001. Print

Feminism and Contemporary Elements of Caryl Churchill’s Play ‘Top Girls’

Top Girls

Link to Caryl Churchill’s ‘Top Girls’ Entire Play Script, with Synopsis and Notes:

In 1982, when Caryl Churchill wrote Top Girls, feminism was approaching an apex of a sort following the sexual revolution of the 1970’s. Feminism in the mid to late 80’s is classified as the latter end of what is known as the Second-Wave that began in the early 60’s. This period was characterized by a notable evolution out of seeking absolute, fundamental rights, such as suffrage, and focusing more with cultural equality issues like ending discriminating hegemonic masculinity in the workplace and domestically. While Churchill’s Top Girls has its few moments disparaging specific male counterparts, largely the play uses a forward thinking agenda and rare dramatic form and theory to highlight the plight of women and the difficulties and sacrifices made in order to complete and accomplish in a male-dominated patriarchal society.

Assembled into a dialog between all-female characters, the first act is an impossible gathering of notable accomplished women from history, some imagined, some real, and all of them in one way or another effusively describing scenes suffered to get where they rose to. A contrasting element of prosaic irony is cast as an interrupting waitress is periodically given hegemonic orders and carries no opinion of her own.  (Flaherty 2004) At a highpoint, after hearing the women describe their circumstances, Marlene, the lead role and a manager of Top Girls Employment Agency, states:

We’ve all come a long way. To our courage and the way we’ve changed our lives and our extraordinary achievements.” (Greenwald Act 1, Scene 1 p. 481)


After the dream-like restaurant scene, a more practical, believable office scene emerges along with a well-worked-for hierarchy with Marlene at the top. A brief discourse with new hire, Jeanine transpires. This is a noticeable moment for Churchill in the play for a couple of reasons that are rather elusive, yet extremely substantial in the literary, theatrical and feminist worlds. Churchill employs a technique of conversation that “indulges in Pinter’s verbal techniques of contradiction, tautology, disjunction, as well as repetition of word, beat, and gesture.” (Price 1999) How this represents a milestone in feminism and literature on the whole is that through Churchill’s “identifiable overlapping, pauses, and rhythmic stops and starts, comparisons to more prominent, male playwrights are rare.” (Price 1999) Reminiscent of techniques used by Mamet and as mentioned, originating with Pinter in structure and language. The similarity between Churchill and Mamet is remarkable and surely similarly inspired as Mamet’s style described here by John Lahr in his 1997 article from The New Yorker magazine,

Out of the muck of ordinary speech – the curses, interruptions, asides, midsentence breaks, and sudden accelerations – Mamet carefully weaves a tapestry of motifs which he sees as a “counterpoint.” Mamet says he doesn’t picture the characters on stage, he hears them. “The rhythms don’t just unlock something in the character, they are what’s happening.” (Lahr 97)


What makes this unique as a social feminist, and so uber-feminist, is the mere fact that while outlining the systemic problems of masculine hegemony and capitalist based income disparages, Churchill actually made theoretical and dramatic ground while demonstrating her artistic pioneering talents didactically, teaching others about not only the disproportional roles of women at work, but also contrasting working women with their domestic counterparts in a light that exhibited the sacrifices working women made in giving up family and homestead.

Churchill’s feminist aims seem to overlap each other like the Pinteresque language she employs. She states in an interview about Top Girls with Emily Mann,

What I was intending to do was make it first look as though it was celebrating the achievements of women then – by showing the main character Marlene, being successful in a very competitive, destructive, capitalist way – ask, what kind of achievement is that? The idea was that it would start out looking like a feminist play and turn into a socialist one, as well.” (Betsko and Koenig 82)

Each scene in an abstract way foreshadows the next. The ordination and contrasts of the restaurant scene with the structure and discourse of the office scene, the sensibility of the office conversation with the simple logic of the two girls in her sister’s backyard, then the domestic banter of the backyard with banter of office workers back in the office. These scenes gain an introspection into the lives of women at different ages and socio-economic status, as well as a perspective comparison between women gainfully employed, pre-employed and homemakers.

In the last scene, a chronological spacing dissonance occurs as a flashback to a year prior requires the audience to apply all they’ve viewed and heard in the context of this built-in prequel predicate. In this sense, Top Girls precursors the post-modern period of Churchill which was marked just four years later in 1986. In a way you could say there is this undercurrent of post-structural reference as she deconstructs the paradigms of the modern workplace and what it means for a woman to accomplish greatness and even mediocrity in a world so clearly favoring males.

Personally, I found the humor, antics, language and satire of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls refreshing and engaging. It makes me want to find out how Marlene or whomever is leading the conversation will take it next, and its correlative implications. Top girls serves the world of female accomplishment in its own right as an academic achievement in form, theory, language and artistic expression. It is subtly groundbreaking in my opinion venturing into territory only previously occupied by males and lays groundwork for women to follow.




Works Cited

Greenwald, Michael L., Roger Schultz, and Roberto Darío Pomo. The Longman Anthology of Drama and Theater: A Global Perspective. New York: Longman, 2001. Print.

Lahr, John. “Fortress Mamet.” New Yorker. 17 Nov. 1997. 70-82.

Betsko, Kathleen and Rachael Koenig. Caryl Churchill: Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights. New York: Beech, 1987. 75-84.

Price, John A. “The Language of Caryl Churchill: The Rhythms of Feminist Theory, Acting Theory, and Gender Politics.” Women Writers, 22 July 1999. Web. 20 Mar. 2016. < >.

Flaherty, Kate. “Feminist Drama: Railing and Redress A Brief Study of Sarah Daniels’s Byrthrite and Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls.” Online Journal: Philament, Issue 2 Jan. 2004. University of Sydney. Jan. 2004.  Web accessed 20 Mar. 2016. < >.

New Historicism of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’

CGP The Yellow Wallpaper

Link to Story:

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a work of fiction that closely follows her personal experiences in the four previous years under the “rest care” of Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell. The work was written as an outward expression not only of her response in disagreement and protest to the treatment he prescribed, but as an extension to the suffering of women in America up to the time surviving in a patriarchal society oppressively restraining women to the home, limiting their advancement culturally and professionally. Specifically, the story parallels Gilman’s own plight into depression and her perception of the confinement she experienced. (Quawas, 2006)

Taking a New Historical approach to understanding The Yellow Wallpaper, we venture beyond intrinsic forms and symbolisms to examine the social, biographical and historical context The Yellow Wallpaper exhibits within its genre, author’s intent, and its place among trending influences of its time. As we seek to interpret the social meaning and context in light of events and movements of Gilman’s day, the late 1800’s, we recognize some significant events of her time. Being raised around an aunt, the suffragist Isabella Beecher Hooker and Elizabeth Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was acutely aware of the sufferings of the human condition and the vast and indignant infringements on social justice for many classes of people, especially women. (Gilman, 1935)

Gilman’s depression stemmed from post-partum depression brought on by the birth of their only child Katherine Beecher Stetson in 1885. Medical views at the time categorized women as hysterical and suffering with a serious nervous condition after childbirth. By 1888, Charlotte separated from Charles Walter Stetson and by July of 1890 had written The Yellow Wallpaper. Gilman wrote a one page document about why she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper and to the best of my summation describes herself seeking help for her self-described melancholia from a noted specialist. She received the “rest care” treatment and followed it to a tee for about three months. After which, she became very nearly completely insane. She tossed out his orders and went back to work writing and felt total relief. As a result, she felt compelled to pen TYP and even sent him a copy. The man never responded, but it’s said he change his practice of prescribing “rest care” as a treatment for neurasthenia. (Gilman, 1913)

Texturally, the work has several instances of relation to the mistreatment, imbalance and disproportionate values regarding women at the time.

You see he does not believe I am sick!

And what can one do?

If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?  (Gilman, 1892)

And again here:

I don’t know why I should write this.

I don’t want to.

I don’t feel able.

And I know John would think it absurd. But I MUST say what I feel and think in some way—it is such a relief!

But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.

Half the time now I am awfully lazy, and lie down ever so much.

John says I musn’t lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.

Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.

But he said I wasn’t able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.

Conclusively, Gilman is a force working to right the injustice of her day. So many works have been predicated on her efforts to illustrate in the most artistic and academic fashion through her fictionalized and parallel experience, that she exceeds her intended goal of “saving people from being driven crazy” as she states in her response published in the October issue of The Forerunner in 1913. (Gilman, 1913)

– Postcolonial Views on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ –

It isn’t truly accurate to say Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a work of modern feminism. In fact, by her own admission in an article she wrote for The Forerunner magazine in 1913, she describes writing it to “keep people from going crazy” referring more to the diagnosis and treatment than the fact of her doctor was male and it being necessarily a systemic result of a patriarchal hierarchy, whether it actually was or not her intent being more about the malpractice. That being the case, it is fair to examine The Yellow Wallpaper through a similar, yet profoundly distinct other lens, the postcolonial one.

Replacing the superiority of a male dominate in the feminine sense, the postcolonial derives its lack of hegemony still from her husband John, but in an imperial sense. The wallpaper itself represents a confinement of the subordinate interwoven with the rules and dictates set up by the colonizer where the subordinate is incapable of achieving any proper understanding, admittance and control. This is epitomized in the line:

You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream” (Gilman 9)

This represents a crossroads of feminism in its proto state with postcolonial analysis in an advanced state with echoes of disability criticism, queer theory and ethnic studies in related application.


Works Cited

Bertens, Johannes Willem. Literary Theory the Basics. London: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Project Gutenberg. Web. 3 Jan. 2016.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Forerunner 1 Oct. 1913. Print.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, and Zona Gale. The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. An Autobiography…Foreword by Zona Gale. New York and London, 1935. Arno Press, 1972; and Harper & Row, 1975. Print.

Quawas, Rula. “A New Woman’s Journey into Insanity: Descent and Return in The Yellow Wallpaper.” Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association (2006): 35-53. Print.

William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Play ‘Hamlet’: Analyses from a Historical, Psychological, and Theoretical Approach

   Sara Bernhardt as hamlet_french

           The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, written between 1599 and 1602 by William Shakespeare during the Elizabethan period, on the virtual cusp of the Jacobean period, tells the partly fictional story of the royal house of Denmark found in a state of decline and turmoil and highlights the drama following the death of King Hamlet, Prince Hamlet’s father. Here, with an aim and goal of asserting our unique position of both affirming the 115 year old debate surrounding Freud’s oedipal complex theory determination, while simultaneously denying his reasoning for it, we shall seek to lay at least some of the issue to rest. However ours, unlike Freud’s position, is not concluded to solely by means of deductive psychoanalytical reason, but rather through the strong absence of evidence supporting the contrary combined with a deconstruction of Freud’s view and an historical and theoretical examination of Hamlet in light of related works by Shakespeare and others.

We must first preface our analysis by stating definitively there remains a substantive lack of in text evidence to support a direct claim for, and for our purposes, or against determinative variants of either an oedipal or Electra complex within the character of Hamlet. Most of the Freudian deductive reasoning revolves around the bedroom scene with his mother, namely where Hamlet asserts an obsessive position against his mother confronting her on the issue of incestuous sexual involvement with his uncle. However, the assertion of Hamlet’s psychological condition lies within the element of jealousy and guilt, which is provable through means of in-text reference, and directly correlates with central core jealousy concepts in at least four additional plays following Hamlet into the Jacobean period – Othello, Troilus and Cressida, Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline. (Wilson 306)

In as much, we will re-examine this well discussed work through the combined lenses of historicism, psychoanalytical and various literary theories of analyses, leaning more heavily on the historical, since most of Shakespeare’s work largely involved ancient and more recent historical references, addressing directly correlations to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex as it relates to the assertion in the beginning of this analysis. Without question, William Shakespeare transformed theater in England from a travelling street art into a well-respected profession on the backs of his masterpieces such as Hamlet that still resonate with audiences today by reaching into ancient Greek and Roman forms and themes and blending them with current, popular and relative political events, artistic techniques and social trends of his day.

“All of his plays have touches, and many have complete scenes and characters, which could only be contemporary English. But from this broad classification of his themes it is evident that three great interests stimulated his imagination. The first was the Renaissance culture of western Europe. The second was England, and particularly her monarchy and nobility. The third, equal in importance to the second, was the histories and legends of ancient Greece and Rome.” (Highet Ch. 11)

        First and foremost, Shakespeare’s plays were written by an Elizabethan for Elizabethans during the period Hamlet was authored. Over forty of Shakespeare’s works had direct connection to history. According to Linda Alchin of, “Elizabethan Education was generally for boys of the Upper and Middle Classes.” (Alchin 2012) By records kept, the majority of attendees of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre were admitted to the floor or yard, lower and middle balconies levels and paid respectively only a penny for each advancement of level admission, up to an amazing capacity of 3000 at a time, far outnumbering flanking upper tier patronage occupied by higher paying middle and upper class theatre goers. (London Theatre 2016) It is safe to say he educated his largely uneducated audiences seated in the lower ¾ of the theater with thought-provoking histories, vocabularies, colorful and at times dark metaphor, and also employed styles consistent with popular trends in vogue for his better educated patrons such as uses of Italianate Commedia dell’Arte characters.

Derived from the 13th century work by Saxo Grammaticus Gesta Danorum or History of the Danes, the parallel to Hamlet is found within the actual person of Amleth, son of Horvendill who was one of the sons of the Governor of Jutland. (Mabillard 2000) After killing Koll, King of Norway, and upon returning home, Horvendill marries Gerutha the daughter of Rorik King of Denmark. Horvendill’s brother Feng becomes jealous and kills him, marrying Gerutha. This is the simple explanation of the historical prototype for Hamlet (Amleth). The parallels continue to track similarly, including the key element of feigning madness that spawned the famous quote, “To be or not to be.” Grammaticus’ historical account involves an interaction with Britain in which they differ substantially, then Amleth’s return to Denmark where he encounters the Norwegian regent successor, continues where the similarities resume. It is strikingly evident Shakespeare had intentionally captured and preserved this part of history for the Elizabethans, and the rest of the world to come.

Drawing structure and form for his works from classical Hellenic and Roman sources seemed rudimentary to the scholarship of Shakespeare, he also included characters from the in-vogue 16th century Italianate. As an influence of Shakespeare, Sophocles’ most famous work Oedipus Rex poses an interesting study from a Freudian point of view. It was a 1900 viewing of Hamlet that inspired Freud to theorize his oedipal complex, drawing the correlation through a psychoanalysis of the character. Most certainly, Shakespeare wasn’t the first to recognize the recurring themes of incest, murder, madness, purification, and patricide. Freud states in his 1900 Interpretation of Dreams:

Another of the great poetic tragedies, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is rooted in the same soil as Oedipus Rex. . . In Oedipus Rex the basic wish-phantasy of the child is brought to light and realized as it is in dreams; in Hamlet it remains repressed, and we learn of its existence- as we discover the relevant facts in a neurosis- only through the inhibitory effects which proceed from it.” (Freud 86)

On two separate occasions we see him assert himself: once in a sudden outburst of rage, when he stabs the eavesdropper behind the arras, and on the other occasion when he deliberately, and even craftily, with the complete unscrupulousness of a prince of the Renaissance, sends the two courtiers to the death which was intended for himself. What is it, then, that inhibits him in accomplishing the task which his father’s ghost has laid upon him? Here the explanation offers itself that it . . . Hamlet is able to do anything but take vengeance upon the man who did away with his father and has taken his father’s place with his mother- the man who shows him in realization the repressed desires of his own childhood.” (Freud 86)

        While the story of Hamlet is less akin to Oedipus and more akin to Sophocles’ Electra, even greater similarities exist to Homer:

. . . powerful Agamemnon, with eyes and head like Zeus who delights in thunder, like Ares for girth, and with the chest of Poseidon; like some ox of the herd pre-eminent among the others, a bull, who stands conspicuous in the huddling cattle; such was the son of Atreus as Zeus made him that day, conspicuous among men, and foremost among the fighters.” (Iliad 2.441-83)

See what grace was seated on his brow – Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself, an eye like Mars, to threaten or command, a station like the herald Mercury new-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill; a combination and a form in deed where every God seemed to set his seal to give the world assurance of a man.” (Hamlet 3.4.55-61) (Showerman 98)

         Again Shakespeare drawing on the eloquence and reason of Plato describing Socrates’ death throes, at times directly quoting:

. . . but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain . . . . if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is only a single night. . . To die, to sleep, No more, and by a sleep to say we end. The heartache and the thousand natural shocks.” (Plato, Apologia 27-9)

“That flesh is heir to––’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come. When we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause.” (Ham. 3.1.62-70) (Showerman 100-1)

         As we can see there is no shortage of correlation, in fact most of what Shakespeare assembles is some derivative of Greek poetry and drama combined with fact and history from more recent times.

Joshua Rothman examines the idea of Hamlet as a love story in his article for The New Yorker. He references a then new book about Hamlet entitled “Stay, Illusion!” by Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster in which he observes,

 “Hamlet’s problem, they argue, isn’t really that he’s hesitant about violence. Rather, it’s that the possibility of being violent fills him with shame. In “Hamlet,” they write, shame is pervasive; it has settled on Elsinore like a fog. For Freud, Hamlet’s shame has to do with his oedipal desires. But for Webster and Critchley it’s more abstract. It has to do with the shame of needing to love, the shame about the emptiness that, they hold, is at the center of the experience of love.” (Rothman 2013)

        Rothman concludes that through his example of Webster and Critchley’s description of love being the driving force in Hamlet and not the madness and violence that permeates the action, that what becomes prominent is the value of the illusion that conceals love, not only in the eroticism Freud describes, but in the relation to Hamlet’s motivators, his filial duty to avenge his father, his inability to act against his mother and the consequences of the hesitations that occur. Shakespeare observed these relational dynamics within the Greek masters and the Latin classics, Pliny, Ovid, Seneca and Lucretius, more examples than space for here. His formal education ended at fourteen, however for those seven years he was only allowed to converse in Latin at King Edward IV’s The Guild School, affording young William an immersion into all things Latin and corresponding Greek recordings, but he was required to converse in Latin under the threat of corporal punishment if caught speaking in English.

Relatively early in the play Hamlet realizes his uncle’s guilt:

Haste me to know ‘t, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.” (Hamlet 1.5)

        Ernest Jones describes his conclusion on the significance of Freud’s oedipal correlation with a difference to Rothman. Instead of love, Jones says Hamlet’s hesitation is out of intellectual cowardice, which either would be consistent with the Greek form Shakespeare adhered to:

Action is paralyzed at its very inception, and there is thus produced the picture of causeless inhibition which is so inexplicable both to Hamlet and to readers of the play. This paralysis arises, however, not from physical or moral cowardice, but from that intellectual cowardice, that reluctance to dare the exploration of his inner mind, which Hamlet shares with the rest of the human race.” (Jones 59)

        Scenes surrounding Hamlet’s obsession with his mother’s incest and sexual behavior Freud and subsequently Jones referred to derive most of their evidence from implication and only allude to the possibility of fact, not to fact itself found within the dialog of the play. What is evident in Hamlet is his hesitance, his unwillingness to accept the responsibilities that would befall him were he to carry out the express wishes of his father’s specter, whether real or imagined, as an extension of his own conscious. Ophelia observes this reluctance in Hamlet, “And I . . . Now see that noble and most sovereign reason . . .that unmatched form and feature of blown youth. Blasted with ecstasy.” (3.1.156, 58-61) These hesitancies or pauses manifested into his self-proclaimed feigned madness, which likely was a defense to his own actual madness. Early, Hamlet’s first soliloquy denotes his despair in place of a resolve to assume a natural order of title and role, usurping Claudius, instead lamenting depressed:

O that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d his canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!” (1.2.129-34)

        Late in the play, Hamlet relinquishes to himself and Horatio as he suggests that his father’s directions in killing his uncle he may not hold a right to,

Does it not, think thee, stand me now upon—He that hath killed my king and whored my mother, popped in between th’ election and my hopes, thrown out his angle for my proper life (And with such cozenage!)—is ’t not perfect conscience. . .”  (5.2.63-7)

         Here is where the actual textual inference can be made, in scene five, again late in the play, outside the psychological aspect of Hamlet’s character Freud and Jones conclude by, with an assumption by Hamlet that he somehow allowed his mother to become whored. This where I draw a conclusive line and extrapolate for lack of any more direct in-text reference than these to default to the less nobler side of Hamlet, in a pre-existing state of jealousy, coupled with despair and hesitance, leads him to a fatalistic drive to kill Claudius, not out of duty and vengeance as a nobler son would, but rather out of the warped twist lacking any real ethic the prior would require, fueled by jealousy, shame and self-guilt.

Parts of Shakespeare’s own psyche and persona made its way into the text and character of Hamlet. Shakespeare demonstrably sought to teach his relatively large and mostly uneducated audiences, not only history but political position and prowess of Elizabethan policies and practices as well as those from the Danes through correlations to older histories. He worked diligently to also enjoin upon these same audiences an enlightenment into the ancient, the pure forms of drama in an academic way, as much he could, given the state of theatre in the 17th Century. Many of the sets and props would remain on stage throughout the performance, being too heavy to move, seemingly crude by our standards, but par for the times. Difficulty surmounts us as we begin to project ourselves into the world of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in terms of understanding what it was to attend and be on the ground there, much less to exist in the mindset and limited knowledge base of the era. We can only see through a glass dimly as we glance back through time, only really knowing the brilliance of Shakespeare being evident in the survival and strength of his work from then until today, and the relevance of all his works on modern theatre and most of the performance arts, especially the greatest of these, Hamlet.

In conclusion, the depths of Shakespeare’s twists and fictionalized identification of the characteristics of the actual person of Hamlet, Amleth as he would have known it, captured in the play testify to the scholar-like skill and keen observation by Shakespeare of the ancients, links to those histories and meaningful depiction to modern audiences of his time. The historical true story of Amleth which Shakespeare adhered nearly exactly to holds the key to unravelling various disagreements and introspections into the psychologically based motives Freud and Jones put forth, which Rothman, Critchley and Webster roundly reject, defining the desires and inner psyche we see in the depicted Hamlet, as the character known to be through Shakespeare. The true story from the Danes is absolutely one founded in jealousy, shame and guilt, as I have described here, and being intertwined with inordinate obsession by a prince of the Renaissance of his mother’s sexual practice and hesitance to avenge his noble father’s death, leaves an instance of impropriety one cannot dismiss. Our determination concurs with Freud to a similar end, one that cannot dismiss an obvious latent oedipal complex. However, our position remains unique in the justification for it, dismissing Freud’s externally derived foregone conclusion, ours being founded within albeit indirect, yet in-text play sourced absolutes relating directly to the history the play was derived from.

Works Cited

Highet, Gilbert. The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1949. Print.

Showerman, Earl. “ORESTES AND HAMLET: From Myth to Masterpiece: Part I.” The Oxfordian 7.2004 (2004): 89-114. Web. 28 Feb. 2016. “October” PDF < >.

Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare’s Sources for Hamlet. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < >

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, Third Edition. Trans. by A. A. Brill. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913

Rothman, Joshua. “Hamlet: A Love Story – The New Yorker.” 14 Aug. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2016. < >.

Jones, Ernest. Hamlet and Oedipus. New York: Doubleday, 1954. Print.

Wilson, John Dover. What Happens in Hamlet. Cambridge: U Pr., 1970. Print.

Alchin, Linda K. “Elizabethan Education.” Elizabethan Education. L.K. Alchin, 16 May 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. < >.

“London Seating Plans.” Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Seating Plan. London Theatre, 1995-2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. < >.

“Shakespeare Facts | Shakespeare’s Globe | Globe Education/Shakespeare’s Globe.” Shakespeare Facts | Shakespeare’s Globe | Globe Education /Shakespeare’s Globe. The Shakespeare Globe Trust, 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. “Audiences” PDF <>.


The Versatility, Genius, and Eternal Toughness of Vincent Cassel

Vincent Cassel

Vincent Cassel is the Marquis de Sade of bad guys in French film. There really isn’t any comparison among French actors, and it’s a hard press in the rest of the acting world to find anyone as well gifted for portraying the infamous and nefarious. He’s as tough as they come. Bearing this in mind, unless you have a stomach for the level of graphic violence and taboo, often grotesque imagery of some of the scenes, his versatility, genius and authenticity can become complementarily obscured by the magnitude of the material’s content.

Vincent was born in the midst of his father, Jean-Pierre Cassel’s French New Wave acting with notable directors such as Claude Chabrol and Luis Buñuel of the Young Turks, Jean Renoir and Philippe de Broca also of the French New Wave. Among many other roles his father would deliver, through an array of associated affiliations, friendships and connections, the wide variety of genres being depicted gave Vincent and his siblings tremendous access to the film community at large in France. There was no shortage of inspiration, expertise, exposure and influence in the Cassel household.

In 1995, Cassel’s César Award nominations for Best Actor and Most Promising Actor from his work in the film La Haine kicked-off well and catapulted Cassel’s career in which he brilliantly portrayed the role of ‘Vinz,’ a Jewish twenty-something immigrant living with his family in a poverty stricken suburb of Paris. Along with his three friends, Vinz secretly envisions himself as Robert De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle, but bent on gaining attention and recognition among his fellow thugs by killing a cop. As they flee this situation, the film’s arc carries the trio through a series of degenerated misadventures and socially inept hostile encounters that expose the true nature of Vinz as something other than the thug he poses and acts as.  Just as Vinz and his friends return to their families and try to resume a modicum of right living, a policeman encounters him and kills him in a confrontation, creating a microcosmic metaphor to sectors of French society’s freefall through senseless brutality, especially in economically distressed environments.

In exhorting the impact of social dilemma often fueled by situational conflict arising from compromised conditions and problematic circumstances, Cassel captures and delivers an essence of realism also found in former New Wave films such as Breathless, The 400 Blows and Bande à part (Band of Outsiders).

My first exposure to Vincent Cassel wasn’t immediately in a tough guy role, and it was later in his career, but attributes to his versatility as an actor to perform outside the typical bad guy role. The 2009 Brazilian film À Deriva (Adrift) done in Portuguese casts Cassel as the father of a teenage girl coming of age amidst her parent’s separation and learning about her father’s infidelity. In many ways Vincent Cassel exhibits a softer, more responsible, more amenable figure.

Cassel portrays this same good-guy side of himself in L’Appartement, a 1996 French film set in Paris in which he is an as yet unaccomplished writer who accepts a position in New York and mysteriously leaves his intensely loved girlfriend behind. Flashing forward two years, he moves back to Paris and gets engaged, but not before encountering his first true love. Complications ensue as he discovers a friend of his first love pretending to be her and to complicate things further, there are two additional men trying to date these two women as well. A seriously complex subplot occurs when the pretending woman is observed acting in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and events unfold parallel to the great play, drawing an uncanny correlation to the Shakespearean work.

After an initial bad boy role in 1995 with La Haine, Cassel went on to play a more critical role as an unsung figure, a journalist and dissident politician Camille Desmoulins in the French-American collaborated film Jefferson In Paris depicting Thomas Jefferson’s pre-Presidential experiences as a liaison during the start of the French Revolution. Cassel’s character historically sparks the riots that grow into the attacks that would eventually lead to the formation of a Republic he strongly promoted.

In some ways, the level of expertise Cassel demonstrated to accurately portray Desmoulins decries his abilities as a technical savant. The mere fact Desmoulins was a bad boy by all means, though his cause was just, allowed Cassel to be an even more suitable fit for the role, also allowing him to fill into the historical, technical and romantic figure of a folk hero he would later realize multiple-award winning recognition in subsequent roles as the less ethical uber-bad boy real-life French bank robber, Mesrine. Yet, before this, Cassel would achieve additional award recognition.

In the 2001 French film Sur Mes Lèvres (Read My Lips), Vincent Cassel plays a paroled ex-con who helps an under-respected, mostly deaf and co-worker-tormented construction company secretary to re-explore her possibilities in life romantically with his awkward advances and professionally by ultimately putting her ability to read lips into practice, hence the name, helping him to rob a nightclub owner he is indebted to. Cassel’s character, Paul, convinces the secretary, Carla, played by Emmanuelle Devos, to follow his errant ways, so much so that when his robbery of the nightclub is uncovered by the owner, and Paul is caught and beaten, Carla comes to his rescue, completing the robberies success by devising a means entirely unassisted herself, demonstrating an obvious new found savor of crime, no doubt discovered through the act.

My second exposure to Cassel was with a two-part 2008 remake of a 1984 historically accurate film accounts of one of France’s most notorious folk hero bank-robbers, burglars and ruthless cop-killers, Jacques Mesrine. Mesrine in real-life was considered a modern day Robin Hood figure and his widely publicized escapes and wanted statuses gained him popularity as a nationally recognized anti-establishment figure. Cassel would be best suited for this role, and the mythic proportion of Mesrine’s infamy depicted so precisely by Vincent Cassel would place him atop the list of bad boy actors in all history.

The first film of the 2008 two-parts, Mesrine: L’instinct de Mort (Killer Instinct) was based on an autobiographical book by Mesrine, initially being unpublished by a law preventing him from profiting from his crimes, but being published later by Gérard Lebovici, who was mysteriously killed in events surrounding its publication.

The second film, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1, was a detail of the criminal career, escapes and death of Jacques Mesrine. Comparisons have been made of the 2008 Mesrine depictions by Vincent Cassel to Al Pacino’s 1983 celebrated portrayal of fictional Cuban drug lord Tony Montoya in Scarface.

Cassel would win four awards for his 2008 depiction of Jacques Mesrine, the César Award for Best Actor, the Lumières Award for Best Actor, the Étoiles d’Or Award for Best Actor, and the Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Actor.

In 1996, while on the set of L’Appartement, Vincent met and eventually fell in love with the wonderfully talented actress Monica Bellucci, marrying in 1999 and working together with her on the production sets of six films including Doberman (1997), Méditerranées (1999), Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), the controversial Irreversible (2002), Agents Secrets (2004) and French erotic/horror film Sheitan (2006) in which Bellucci made a cameo appearance. They have two daughters Deva and Léonie.

In all, Vincent Cassel has acted in over forty films, produced or co-produced no fewer than three and received six awards for Best Actor and Most Promising Actor, as well as nominations for four more awards. Cassel has been almost as prolific in his English film production as in French film. Vincent Cassel has performed in English speaking versions of the following: Hot Chocolate (1992), Award winning film Elizabeth (1998), The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999), Birthday Girl (2001), The Reckoning (2003), Renegade (Blueberry) (2004), Ocean’s Twelve (2004), Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), Derailed (2005), Eastern Promises (2007), Black Swan (2010), A Dangerous Method (2011), Trance (2013), Child 44 (2015), Partisan (2015), Tale of Tales (2015) and upcoming It’s Only the End of the World (2016)

Works Cited

  • Palmer, Tim (2011) Brutal Intimacy: Analyzing Contemporary French Cinema Wesleyan University Press, Middleton, Connecticut

The Telling of Argo: Historical Accuracies and Inaccuracies


The impact of a fictionalized account of a true story can substantially change the public perception, with an enduring, if not permanent effect. Some true events rendered to film or other media can be subject to artistic, political and literary license altering the accuracy of depicted truth represented. Methodologies and practices by editors, directors, writers, publishers and even actors add an intrinsic dramatization aimed at a calculated audience or readership response. In a primary sense, the skew of artifice to truth is often driven by a mediums market, current and past states of demeanor regarding the event, and by interpretive recollections and viewpoints.

In the instance of the multi-award-winning and widely acclaimed film Argo produced by Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov, great effort went into making certain elements of the film as accurate as possible. Being that the film was based on a covert CIA operation, known commonly as the “Canadian Caper” and also based on facts derived from news accounts, witness testimonies and the primary previous novel fictionalizations The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez and The Great Escape by Joshuah Bearman, and influences including but not limited to reasons stated earlier, a notable number of historical inaccuracies exist. The biggest difference from a Western perspective was stated by Jimmy Carter best when he said, “Ninety percent of the contributions to the ideas and consummation of the plan was Canadian.”

One of these examples is the CIA’s involvement was depicted in an over-glorified way in Argo, with wonderful results for the domestic understanding by American audiences, but at the expense of telling it incorrectly and denying Canadians their primary and chief role in the operation. In response, Ben Affleck stated regarding this issue, “…There were folks that didn’t want to stick their necks out and the Canadians did…Because of that their lives were saved.”

Notably, and perhaps with greater enduring consequence politically both positively and negatively, has been the reception by the Iranians. Among those who note qualified Iranian diasporic sentiment about the film is Canadian writer Jian Ghomeshi, of Iranian heritage, who states the film has a “deeply troubling portrayal of the Iranian people.”

Clearly, film, stage, literature and other mediums for fiction have a demonstrative effect on people, not only educating them about the event, but also bringing an added dimension of point of view introduce through those in a capacity and with a prerogative to exercise dramatic license.

This sometimes almost falls into a category of media known as propaganda. Sometimes it may seem that, although there is very accurate depicting taking place, an agenda is somehow being met. In the early days of the Soviet Union, just after the Bolshevik Revolution, in fact in an effort to persuade the people of Russia of the justification of the events of 1917, a film by Sergei Eisenstein called The Battleship Potemkin utilized experimental employs of the Kuleshov Effect, a dramatic style of montage. Quite effectively, the Tsarist forces were seen as merciless brutes slaughtering masses of innocent people.

Works Cited

Bearman, Joshuah. “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran.” Conde Nast Digital, 24 Apr. 2007. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

Affleck Starts Shooting ‘Argo’ Film in LA.” UPI. United Press International, 12 Sept. 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

Knelman, Martin. “TIFF 2012: How Canadian Hero Ken Taylor Was Snubbed by Argo | Toronto Star.” Toronto Star Newspaper, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

McDevitt, Caitlin. “Jimmy Carter: ‘Argo’ Great but Inaccurate.” POLITICO. 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

Ghomeshi, Jian. “Jian Ghomeshi: Argo Is Crowd-pleasing, Entertaining – and Unfair to Iranians.” The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 2 Nov. 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

Ebert, Roger. “The Battleship Potemkin Movie Review (1925) | Roger Ebert.” All Content. 19 July 1998. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

On Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane: Mankiewicz, Schaefer, Hearst and Rockefeller

Orson Welles’ genius clearly outdid himself early in life in film-directing with “Citizen Kane.” His entire directing career could be crudely summarized as chasing the dragon in following and attempting to recreate the mastery and magnitude of this one early success. However, to say this would sell his vast collective accomplishments short over the near mythic figure of a man’s lifetime achievements. He would go on to finish directing only thirteen feature-length films in all, acting in a number of films far exceeding this modest figure and leaving unfinished even more films.

The depth of mystery of message is unknowable in Citizen Kane. I submit there are innuendos and implications portrayed that have personal meaning to Welles possibly no one will ever know the depth of. Superficially, the film traces the darker underbelly of the lavish spoils and excess of unfathomable success, the hidden self-serving agendas and over-arching recompenses of public servitude, the inextricable links between industry and politics with all the pork-belly backscratching and leveraging of the plight of the masses, for better and for worse. In every way, Welles illuminated the extravagance and position of William Randolph Hearst and drew correlation across the board to many politicians. More clearly, Citizen Kane is a politically motivated film that was undeniably fueled by partisan interests.

Nelson Rockefeller, our nation’s 41st Vice President and a backbone of the Republican Party throughout his extensive political pursuits, arguably paved the way for the 1938 United Artists executive and producer George Schaefer to Preside over the newly established RKO Pictures. Many of Hollywood’s productions of the period were inundated with conservative Republican values such as with the Andy Hardy 16 film series. The Hearst media empire was vast indeed and presented itself as a formidable political opponent and source of contribution to all things Democrat in the late 1930’s. With Democrat FDR’s success of getting the nation back on its feet after the Great Depression, and the clouds of war forming over a divided Europe, Hollywood stood as a cutting-edge state of the art mechanism for leveraging political poise influencing the winds of change.

Be that as it may, Citizen Kane is too complex to be just the masterpiece of cinematographic work it has inspired countless numbers of producers, directors and actors as. It devolves and dispels the convoluted political, social and private life of the enigma that was William Randolph Hearst, highlighting some of his most vulnerable and less attractive attributes, gaining an otherwise unknowable perspective window into the more personal side of his life. Keeping in mind it is fiction and only a parallel at best, it aggrandizes Hearst’s accomplishments in a cynical parody Pauline Kael refers to it as “closer to comedy than tragedy” in which it portends to be. Hearst himself made numerous direct and indirect attempts to prevent its production and release to even less success, yet successfully hindering its initial circulation in Warner theaters upon its release. Its promotion was met with an initial box office deficit and an overall lackluster distrust of its content by the general public.

In terms of its value as a model of written, directed and produced construct, it exceeds and replaces preceding textbook form. Citizen Kane almost overnight becomes an industry standard commensurate to its Welles radio-famed colossal achievement “War of the Worlds,” which led to his free-reign with Schaefer at RKO. An understanding and implementation of double and triple entendre, innuendo and other significant literary devices are exhibited throughout the film. What makes Citizen Kane an academic model, appealing to the intellect more rather than leaning on special effect and implied scene correlation, is its collection of blackout gag scenes, a device left over from the recent vaudeville days of live stage performance, arranged as sort of a commentary or newsreel footage, a common film purpose to pre-live news broadcasts, as well as its employ of multiple overlapping narrators, not heard of in any preceding Hollywood productions. The use of flashbacks and montage was extensive and pronounced greater in Citizen Kane than previously and the deployment of the innovative cinematographic technique of “deep focus,” or “Pan-focus,” allowed everything in each scene, long or short, foreground or distance to be in sharp detail. Another new feature first found in Citizen Kane is the use of what Welles called “lightning-mix,” an aural technique he used in radio, in which Welles would connect abbreviated short montages to long expanses of time flashing from childhood to adulthood coupled with imagery representational of each period. Other complex radio techniques using multiple voices were used exceeding the original approx. $7300.00 budget for sound of the film by more than double.

Welles is given nearly complete credit for the collaborated effort that went into Citizen Kane. However, his co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz nearly wrote the entire screenplay that won Welles his only Oscar. The real work and effort Welles put into it was outside the scope of writing and into his elements of direction and production. Welles went out of his way to actively reduce the credit Mankiewicz received, and coupled with the efforts of Hearst to prevent its creation and birth onto the silver screen, a great deal of Welles effort went into preserving his own place in its legacy.

Despite its failure to reap the initial box office windfall its lasting legacy would imply, and recoup a return on its cost and investment, time has granted Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane a place of founding permanence and prominence in the history of film. It is an immortal work that will remain a priceless treasure. It is arguably the most influential film of all time. Sharper definition, lighting, flashback and wider depth of field are the cinematographic reasons, but the complexity of the story plot structure, the use of multiple overlap narration and reverse biographical account give its literary importance and sway in many countless films to follow substantive academic and professional influence as well.

Personally, my favorite scene is the unfolding drama of when Kane is a little boy and his mother is faced with making the tough decision  of sending him away and providing for a future for her son or letting him be raised around her neglectful and harmful husband. The soul of the film resides here and is immortalized in the meaning of the name of Kane’s sled, “Rosebud.” This ties the entire purpose of the film together, and gives Kane the kernel of human compassion he seems to lack throughout his exploits as a political media mogul. The opening scene of Kane on his deathbed, hearkening back to his fond memory of the moments before his sled is burnt as an emblematic effigy of his childhood innocence being stripped away is embodied in this scene. Told from the narration of his guardian in an elderly flashback, a sweeping implication of the travesty of a life filled with corrupt extravagance and infidelity sets an excellent precedence for the story to expand from. I see the film as a political tragi-comedy satire and agree completely with Kael’s definition of it being a shallow masterpiece. It was long. The sequences worked together in a way that required deeper attention to detail than I expected to give and resolution of the social problems that existed for Kane seemed one-sided and removed in a cynical expose of over self-gratification. The moral of the story was tainted by its need to divulge the cringe-worthiness of excess. Looking at it through the filter of pseudo-authentic reality-like driven programming of today, it has this Mr. Smith Goes to Washington appeal to it, but without the happy ending. The latter Jimmy Stewart film probably being an improvisation on the former, but a biographical overlapping narrative derived from its preceding style. I enjoyed the film in the context it was created in.

In summary, Citizen Kane laid the groundwork for many more innovations in film to follow. It demonstrated how an independent outsider to the often closed circles of mega studios can break convention and create something of substance and importance. It also demonstrates the power of film to influence politics, spheres and realms of the world’s most important individuals and have a voice in seemingly untouchable social enclaves, and how after it’s all said and done, if anything, we may still have only that common small childlike innocence at our core. That is worth more than all the wealth in the world.


Kael, Pauline. “I-RAISING KANE – The New Yorker.” The New Yorker Magazine, 20 Feb. 1971. Web. 27 July 2015. <;

Ebert, Roger. “Citizen Kane Movie Review & Film Summary (1941) | Roger Ebert.” All Content., 24 May 1998. Web. 27 July 2015. < >

Ogle, Patrick L.; Nichols, Bill (1985). “Technological and Aesthetic Influences bUpon the Development of Deep Focus Cinematography in the United States”. University of California Press.

Carringer, Robert L. (1985). The Making of Citizen Kane. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Schatz, Thomas; Harpole, Charles (editor) (1997). History of the American Cinema, volume 6: Boom and bust, the American cinema in the 1940s. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.

Inside Look: The Creation of ‘A Piece of Bread’

A Priest works to uncover the truth behind a young boy shocking confession.

A Priest works to uncover the truth behind a young boy shocking confession.

This story emerged originally as a short film and is officially my first screenplay. The scene starts out as a young boy, Charlie wakes starving…literally. Scrambling around his deadbeat grandpa’s apartment for a scrap of food among the litter of beer and booze bottles, he heads out in the early dawn hours desperate for some, any food. He comes to the corner store on his run down block and follows some older boys inside. While he sneaks a piece of bread from a loaf on the shelf he sees a struggle ensue and bolts across the street. He hears a shot and, by the time the police wrap up the scene investigation, Charlie finds himself in a confession booth for the first time in his life. Father Ernesto works to uncover all the details and the truth behind the real killers of Mr.Oriniega and the extent of Charlie’s involvement, helping Charlie to sort it all out and go to the police.

Beginning in early screenwriting courses in college, I began to formulate atwelve minute script that was a product of the simple biblical phrase, “A man will transgress for a piece of bread.” Little did I realize just how deeply complex twelve minutes could become and how many details could arise. As I pieced it together, I would ask myself, “How could this have happened?” and, “What would that be the result of?” more or less working backward through the story most of the way, but also hitting all the main points. Like any screenplay, each scene must be worked in it’s own context beat by beat. In short film, it’s even more important that every beat and scene serve an important purpose. Most of the film is flashing back and forth from the scene to the confession booth. As narrated from a first person voice, Charlie tells the story of what happened earlier in the day. The film actually begins in the sanctuary of St Anthony’s Catholic Church in a typical urban working class neighborhood. As father Ernesto uncovers the details, his resolve becomes greater to get to the facts and convince Charlie he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and it may be his account that brings the real killers to justice.

After writing ‘A Piece of Bread’ I realized there’s a great opportunity for expansion here. Some peers and friends have also confirmed my own thoughts on the matter of creating a series out of it. As Father Ernesto and Charlie take the matter to the police, Charlie immediately is considered a person of interest and Father Ernesto as helping him to conceal his involvement. The clock is ticking as the pair work to uncover who the two boys are and how to prove Charlie’s innocence. It’s a great story and a real labor of love, I hope you enjoy it and be looking for futher development into a longer series. It is on the shortlist, definitely!

Writing The Corazon Tour – Santana AXS article

AXS Santana The Corazon TourHolding an especially dear meaning and elevation of an already mythic legendary status, The Corazon Tour 2015 is proving to be consistent with the spiritual quintessence that is Carlos Santana. This year offers a wide host of 16+ collaborative efforts from notable artists including Ziggy Marley and Gloria Estefan. Additionally, and perhaps even more historic The Corazon Tour is Santana’s first all-Latin tour since its inception sometime before 1967.

Researching this long list of hugely popular, entrancing and beautiful yet heavy hitting talent was no easy task. Delving back into each one’s available histories from magazine and news articles, Wikipedia, Youtube and the artists websites themselves made writing this piece as much a pleasure for me as it was lesson in history and music, especially Latin music. All of the artists hold a special connection with Carlos and his influence as arguably the most recognizable and best known Latin pioneer in all of Classic Rock. Having made some of the earliest successes at that moment in time known as Woodstock, Santana has continuously delivered one Platinum album after another with a massive list of over 60 former members of the band.

It was such an honor to pen the pre-event article, and the story is really just beginning. On this St. Patrick’s Day eve of the March 18th show I look back at just what this tour actually means in Classic and Latin Rock history and I realize I am a part of it, and I think, “Wow!” The real work will come late tomorrow night after the show. I will consolidate the evening’s highlights and refine my notes into the best description I can produce. Check back this weekend for a follow up to this article. Happy reading!

Inside Look: The concept and creation of ‘The Green Fez’

Green Fez

The Fez is that funny flat-topped brimless round usually red hat we often see in film. From Sidney Greenstreet playing Signor Ferrari in Casablanca to Boris Karloff playing Imhotep rising from the dead in The Mummy to Laurel and Hardy’s slapstick comedy in Sons of the Desert and Bing Crosby playing opposite Bob Hope in The Road to Morocco, the official headgear of the Ottoman Empire iconicity signifies and symbolizes all things Middle Eastern prior to the 1980’s. So it is with idea of the use of the fez in The Green Fez.

My intention and desire to incorporate the fez sprung from a blend of growing up with these iconic Hollywood classic favorites combined with seeing my grandfather in his formal pageantry as a Shriner and Mason. It just seemed like a way to incorporate and enshrine a little piece of my life and experience into story, preserving it to fondly revisit and to share with fans. My use of the fez really is that simple here. The rest of the story is mostly unrelated, yet the research and implementation of the fez becomes somewhat central in beginning and the end, but remains inconsequential and is not referred to throughout the majority of the story.

The story starts out in the cosmopolitan city of Paris just as our as yet unnamed and otherwise aliased main character is setting up for an assassination of a corrupt Russian dignitary from a third story window across the street from the American Embassy. Very quickly, the story breaks into a betrayal fueled flight from justice and pursuit of a pair of welching, double-crossing and Interpol snitching hit-hiring Pakistanis. The chase quickly moves through the French countryside and multiple border crossings across Europe, into the Caucus region and then Southern Russia dropping eventually and ultimately into Pakistan. Scenes and settings quickly change constantly throughout the entire story which gave me a great opportunity to educate readers of customs, people and cultures from the huge volume of research that is a hallmark of my storytelling.

Bringing The Green Fez full circle and reinserting the use of the fez into the end of the arduous journey came as a strategic challenge at first. Research and history again came to the rescue, as it often does. Discovering the last official use of the fez as military headgear led to an obscure but interesting fact, and a treasure trove of details.  In a remote formerly Indian Punjabi region of western Pakistan is the province of Bahawalpur and the fez was last used there in the remaining personal royal guard of the ruling leader called a Satrap. Hence, the Royal Lancers of Bahawalpur, who had one of the only uses of the green fez. Perfect, I thought, and so it was. Our anti-hero protagonist has a friend on the other end, but only just. So secret must his identity remain for fear of being discovered and leading the authorities and bad guys to the only chance he has to recover his money and catch the two villans. The green fez ultimately is a key prop, allowing our lead’s contact in Pakistan to stand out in a crowd and make the connection. It becomes the goal and objective that the entire story revolves around achieving and a great relief is realized when he reaches it. Inadvertently, the fez belonged to his contact’s girlfriend’s grandfather and was chosen in haste during the only brief conversation the lead has with his Pakistani friend.

As you can see, the smallest detail from virtually any story can become central and key. Sometimes it’s in the midst of obscurity and for indirect reasons importance arises making for some of the least expected and action packed storylines.