Turn of the Screw by: Henry James
After reading ‘The Turn of the Screw’;, by Henry James, I was left with many unanswered questions. The two main questions are, are the ghosts in the story real, or are they just figments of the narrator’s imagination? When I read though the essays of criticism, I took a stand on one particular argument. I took a stand that supports the argument that the ghosts are real.
In this story we see many strange things taking place at a house on Harley Street in a town called Bly. We meet Mrs. Grose a housekeeper who is taking care of the house while the master is out of town. The governess, also the narrator and unnamed in this story, has more credentials than the housekeeper and is mainly in charge of caring for the children. Flora and Miles, two young children who are left in the care of these women until their uncle returns. Throughout the story the governess explains to Mrs. Grose that she is seeing two people staring at her. At first Mrs. Grose thinks what she is saying is ridiculous, but after careful examination she begins to agree with the governess. The governess explains in full detail what these people looked like and Mrs. Grose tells her it’s the ghosts of Peter Quint (the previous butler) and Miss. Jessel (a previous maid).
Mrs. Grose may or may not see the ghosts the same as the governess. After realizing the governess is quite scared of these ghosts, she might be beginning to play a scheme to get full control over Flora. Mrs. Grose wants Flora to herself because she has no children of her own. Every time the governess sees the figures Mrs. Grose is around. Is this a coincidence? Is Mrs. Grose in fact behind the whole reason for the sightings? I believe that there are ghosts taking part in this story. There are too many references in the story not to believe this way. Miss. Jessel and Peter Quint, referred to as ‘them’; or the two ghosts are reappear and disappear on and off throughout the story. The reason I believe they are doing this is to warn the governess. They are trying to show the governess Mrs. Grose’s intentions of getting rid of her and taking Flora. They want to warn the governess to leave before she becomes a ghost as they already have.
Throughout this mystery one question comes to mind. ‘How did Peter Quint die.We are told one thing and we know it for sure, the governess is ‘still haunted with a shadow of something she has not told me.’; It’s odd that Peter was found with a fatal wound to his head. Mrs. Grose did not want to mention this to the governess because perhaps she was the one committed the murder. This proves that Mrs. Grose couldn’t stand Quint’s control over Flora and had to do away with him. Just as she might plan to do with the new governess so she no longer controls Flora. So in fact the ghosts of Quint and Jessell are haunting the house to scare both the housekeeper for her evil ways and the governess to leave before she becomes the next victim.
I believe that Miles saw the ghosts and Flora did not. The ghosts were not in the story to scare the children. Towards the end of the story Flora runs away to the lake. Both of the women leave Miles alone in the house and go look for her. They find Flora near a lake and Mrs. Grose clearly forgets about the governess and throws ‘herself on her knees and, drawing the child to her breast, clasped in a long embrace the little tender yielding body.’; This looks like Mrs. Grose feels that she has Flora in her control. At that moment the governess says she sees Miss Jenssell on the other side of the lake. All three of them look but only Mrs. Grose and the governess see her. ‘You don’t see her exactly as we see? – you mean to say you don’t now-now? She’s as big as a blazing fire! Only look, dearest woman, look-!’;, the governess exclaims. Flora does not see the lady because the ghost does not reveal herself to Flora. However, Mrs. Grose does see the ghost but does not want to admit it in front of Flora. In fact it makes the governess look bad when Mrs. Grose tells Flora not to believe her. This makes Flora feel uncomfortable with the governess.
Later on the governess confronts Miles in the house. She wants him to admit that he too has seen the ghosts. But the governess does not want to tell him straight forward about the ghosts, she wants him to admit it on his own, therefore making neither one of them insane. He does in fact see him at the window and exclaims ‘Peter Quint-you devil!’;(Goddard p88) They came to an agreement that they both see him at the window and at that moment Miles dies. This would explain the fact that he was in such shock after seeing a ghost and therefore died. There had to be a ghost present due to Miles death. Something had to be so frightening as a ‘ghost’; to scare the child to his early grave. Miles, a young innocent child would not lie about a ghost. There is no need to because he did see the ghost as the governess had. There would be no reason for a child to lie about something like this.
Whether or not a ghost was present is the question in this mystery. We as readers are ‘led unsuspectingly to accept the narrator in good faith.’; With that in mind I have to believe as a reader that the ghosts in the story were real. Both Miles and the governess claimed that they saw the ghosts and this has made me believe this way. I feel the ghosts were appearing to warn the governess to leave and to scare Mrs. Grose away from the house. In the end the governess loses out so the ghosts failed to help her defeat the governess and Mrs. Grose gets her way and escapes with Flora. Having ‘girded her loins to meet me once more,’; the vindictive housekeeper really turns the screw on the governess.
To my knowledge I have to say that Henry James intended for the ghosts to appear and they weren’t just figments of the narrator’s imagination. There were too many occurrences of ghosts in this story to make me feel differently towards this argument.