On Thursday, February 26, my Advanced Literature class held a debate over the issue of whether or not the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw are real or the products of the narrator’s overly active imagination. The novella is the perfect vehicle for a discussion of narrative technique because James provides evidence that supports both interpretations of the text. Because the textual evidence cancels itself out, the reader is left with no ground to stand on in defending either interpretation of what happens. Was James being deliberately ambiguous, or is the tale fundamentally flawed? This has been a running debate ever since Edmund Wilson, in a critical essay written in 1937, argued that the ghosts are not the product of paranormal activity so much as they are the reflection of the narrator’s sexual repression, combined with her obsessive desire to play the savior for the children she cares for.
Mr. Steve Parker, Ms. Moira Cahill, and Mrs. Susan Larkin were the judges, and all agreed that the students put in a superb performance. From initial arguments to cross-examinations to rebuttals and final summaries, the students showed considerable preparation, outstanding insight, and a poise and presence in their presentations that gave the event the feel of a high-level law school class. I think it was the class' finest hour this year. Doug Hartshorn and Zach Sowerby actually wore suits to the debate. Haidee Chu was so good in her cross that she was a bit intimidating. Kylie Caouette’s opening argument was eloquent and convincing, and Julie Donnenfeld’s summation left the opposition with little room to maneuver.
In short, the debate was a wonderful moment for the class and for me, and so I asked our headmaster, Chris Torino, if the school would spring for a dinner for the winning team. He generously and immediately obliged, and so the five winners (Kylie Caouette, Julie Donnenfeld, Haidee Chu, Bo Jareonvongrayab, and Eunice Wong) and I will head out for a meal after spring break. As fate would have it, my final year at Cushing has been filled with moments such as this one and with students whose departure at graduation will break my heart. The interaction with these wonderful students, throughout the year, has allowed me to understand how blessed I have been to work at this school and with these young people.
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Cushing Academy exists for students and develops curious, creative, and confident learners and leaders. Founded in 1865, Cushing is a co-ed, college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12 and PG. Our students, who come from over 30 states and 30 countries, excel in our outstanding academic, art, and athletic offerings. We welcome you to visit our community and beautiful 162-acre campus in Ashburnham, Mass., just one hour from Boston, to experience all that Cushing has to offer.