The Turn Of The Screw

– 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withdrawn from school, and then the young lady begins to see people where she shouldn?t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.


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