– Evaluation And Critique Essay, Research Paper
The Turn Of The Screw
Thesis Statement: While ?The Turn of the Screw? initially appears to be a typical ghost
story, progression of the novel exposes the narrator?s ignorance and unfamiliarity of
her position as the narrator moves towards a nervous breakdown.
?The Turn of the Screw?, by Henry James, first appears to the reader as a ghost
story. It is the tale of how a young lady accepts a job as a governess, and how she is to
be in charge of a house resided by two children, Flora and Miles. The young lady (never
given a proper name) instantly falls in love with the two children, and is quite content with
her job. However, some strange and ominous things start to happen. First, Miles is
withdrawn from school, and then the young lady begins to see people where she shouldn?t
be seeing anyone. Upon questioning, Mrs. Grose (the housekeeper) tells the young lady
about two previous residents of the house and their position to the children( 24). She
also tells the young lady that both of them are now deceased. The young lady becomes
convinced that these two apparitions she sees are indeed these two previous residents
(Peter Quint and Miss Jessel.) The rest of the novel is dedicated to showing the young
lady?s despair, and Miss Jessel.) The rest of the novel is dedicated to showing the young
lady?s despair, how she convinces herself that the children are aware of the apparitions,
and how they all together are forming a conspiracy against her. At the climax of the
novel, Flora becomes deathly ill and is taken away by Mrs. Grose, and Miles dies due to
the shock of ?seeing? Peter?s ghost.
In actuality, however, none ever sees, or at least claims to see, these apparitions
that the young lady is so uneasy about. The young lady is the narrator of the story,
and her narration and viewpoint are both very questionable. It seems that what she sees
and even what she thinks she sees are all incomplete, and filled in by her imagination and
her paranoid and jumpy conclusions. When she begins spotting these ?ghosts?, she has no
clue who they are. She first encounters the ?apparition? of Peter Quint, and upon
explanation she tells Mrs. Grose that he appeared ?far from a gentleman.? Mrs. Grose
brings up Peter Quint, but says he always looked like a gentleman, but acted suspicious.
On page 27 of the novel, Mrs. Grose says the following about Peter Quint, ?Quint was so
clever- he was so deep.? It is then and only then that our narrator decides that the person
he saw was ?indeed a gentlemen.? This attitude, this perspective, brought on probably by
the anxiety of the new job, new responsibility, and sheer loneliness, is only fuel to her
conception of these ?apparitions?, which is practically handed to her with illustration by
Mrs. Grose?s steady supply of information.
Another example of the narrator?s presumed fact is how she decides that the
children are in association with the apparitions. She is completely convinced of this. Yet
when she ?encounters? the ghost of Miss Jessel at the beach shore for the first time, Flora
is completely unaware of the ?apparition?s? presence, and actually has her back towards
her. Even more illuminating, about two hours later the narrator tells Mrs. Grose ?The
Children know all that we know – Flora saw!?(30) She is, of course, speaking of Miss
Jessel, and how by this time paranoia has caused her to honestly believe that Flora saw
her, yet it is clearly shown that Flora is too preoccupied with the water and her toys to
even notice Miss Jessel.
The end result of the narrator?s lunacy and anxiety is Flora contracting a deadly
illness and the untimely death of Miles. After the narrator verbally assaults Flora, calling
her a liar ( 70) and accusing her off conspiring with Miss Jessel, Flora becomes deathly ill
and the narrator pleads with Mrs. Grose to take Flora away, thus saving her from the evil
that supposedly resides in Bly. The narrator also says that she will handle Miles, and
spends time with him.
At the finish of the novel, the narrator sees Peter Quint in a window, and attempts
to force Miles to admit that he sees him too. But when poor Miles turns toward where
Peter is, he drops dead from the fright caused by the narrator. Poor Miles heart caves in
as he experiences a fraction of the narrator?s lunacy. Even the last sentence of the novel
displays the narrator?s madness when she says ?…his letter heart, dispossessed, had
stopped.?(88) In my opinion, the only thing possessing young Miles? heart was fear
and insanity, initiated from the governess.
Regarding the criticism and interpretation of this book, of the ones I?ve read, I
agree with Leon Edel?s ?The Point Of View?, which is his take on the novel. He states
essentially the same thing I do, being that the narrator is not stable and not to be trusted.
I think that he sums it up the best when he says ?The reader must establish for himself the
credibility of the witness; he must decide between what the governess supposed and what
she claims she saw?( 233). I couldn?t agree with that more, considering that the careful
and analytical reader can argue just about any ?ghost? sighting our narrator has had, just
based upon the narrator?s description. Also on 233, Edel states ?The governess?
imagination, we see, discovers ?depths? within herself. Fantasy seems to be a reality for
her.?(233) When Edel says this, he is referring to the fact that the governess schematically
worked out this huge plot in her mind, and thinks that the plan is ominously set up for the
children to be taken away by Quint and Jessel.
On the other hand, Eric Solomon completely caught me off guard with his
interpretation entitled ?The Return of the Screw.? It went a completely different route
and put the blame on Mrs. Grose, something I hadn?t even considered. While some
interesting aspects were brought to my attention, I don?t believe that this is in the least bit
true. To me his interpretation seems like a work of literature in itself, like Solomon is
re-defining the entire story. In his frame, Mrs. Grose is the guilty party, and her motive is
that she wants young Flora and Miles for herself. Solomon says (on 238) ?Motive?
Love and ambition. Mrs. Grose has already risen from maid to housekeeper- why not
to governess? Her obstacle is this young lady…?. While he does present a reasonable
argument had some interesting points, I personally believe that this reading is nonsense
and that the author possibly has read way too many mystery novels.
Edna Kenton?s interpretation is not a very opinionated one, but rather states that
there is more to the novel than just your basic ghost story. On page 209, Kenton says
this about The Turn of the Screw ?He would have his own private ?fun? in its writing…
but he would put about this centre, not only traps set and baited for the least lapse of
attention, but lures…? Speaking of the theme of the story, she remarks ?when the reader
comes face to face at last with the little governess and realizes that the guarding ghosts
and children are only exquisite dramatizations of her little personal mystery acting out her
story in her troubled mind.?(210) This was by far my favorite quote, as it completely
describes the truth in the novel.
Martina Slaughter offers her summary of Edmund Wilson?s repeated
criticism of The Turn of the Screw. Slaughter says that, in agreement with Wilson, Peter
Quint was in actuality a character created by the governess? own sexual desires, inspired
by her ?crush? on the Uncle of the children. Slaughter is also quick to point out ?sexual
references? in the novel. These examples are ?Quint on the tower; Miss Jessel at the
lake; Flora?s toy boat, which she created by pushing a stick into a small flat piece of
wood.?(212). I think that both Slaughter and Wilson are trying to draw something that
just isn?t there. While their imagination is quite impressive, I think that if you took any
novel ever written, you could find twice as many ?sexual references?, which in my opinion
are merely coincidence, if that at all.
Finally, Mark Spilka essentially agrees with Slaughter and Wilson, referring to
Miss Jessel?s hallucinations as ?sexual ghosts?(248). I think that Spilka got way ahead
of himself on this one, and once again used the power of imagination, ironically similar to
the way Miss Jessel used hers in the novel. I think that this interpretation was
unnecessary, and while it isn?t my position to state fact on this novel, that Leon Edel and
Edna Kenton were dead on with their interpretations, and that The Turn of the Screw isn?t
much deeper than that.