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Beit-Hallahmi, B. (1976). The Turn of the Screw and The Exorcist: Demoniacal Possession and Childhood Purity. Am. Imago, 33(3):296-303.

(1976). American Imago, 33(3):296-303

The Turn of the Screw and The Exorcist: Demoniacal Possession and Childhood Purity

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi

The demonic in literature and art is a combination of forbidden aggressive and sexual drives. Often, it represents an attempt to overcome the presence of death by getting closer to “the other side.” More often it represents the breaking of aggressive and sexual taboos. In psychoanalytic terms, we may say that the demonic is a projection of the id, by which the forbidden drives of sex and aggression are thrown outward, so that the source of evil is seen outside the self; we then have to protect ourselves from its return into the self, and if it does return, we have to exorcise it. Our aim here is to look at two expressions of the demonic theme in literature and to test our thesis that in these two cases, one of the major meanings of protection from evil is protection from sexuality. In The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, and in The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, preadolescent children are possessed by evil. Our thesis is that the theme of the asexual purity of preadolescents (and its protection) is common to both The Exorcist and The Turn of the Screw. The two stories are worlds apart in literary quality, but while James' novel is known mainly to College English majors, the inferior quality of Blatty's novel has captured the imagination of the masses. While James is the master of ambiguity and depth, Blatty's characters are one-dimensional, and he expresses blatantly what James has kept equivocal.

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