Upon reading the book The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James,one cannot help but realize that this is more than a mere ghoststory. The title itself seems quite out of place up until one readsthe book for a second time and notices other themes within it. Upon apsychoanalytic reading of the book, one clearly sees a case oframpant child abuse. It tells of incidences of child neglect and assuch seems to warn readers against any aptitude towardsoverindulgence of any form.
This book was written at the end of the 19th Century and to be moreprecise in 1898. The Turn of The Screw is a narrative telling of thestory of woman living in high society, as such a governess. On apsychoanalytical perspective, life seems to offer her much more thanwhat should be dearly accorded to her (Esch and Warren 112). Shemeets a man, who is in essence described in the story as a guardianto both his nephew and niece. He is accorded with the children`sguardianship after both parents die in India. The man is physicallyendowed and attractive and these attributes tend to sweep thegoverness off her feet as the handsome man instantly smites her(Firebaugh 57). This is what compels the distinguished woman toassist the man in taking care of the two children (Shine, 1969). Thechildren`s uncle however sets rules by which the governess has toadhere to with regard to taking care of the children. As such, she istasked with taking care of any issues that may arise concerning thetwo children. The uncle delegates so much of his duties as thechildren guardian such that the man is not to be bothered with theaffairs of the children whatever the case might be (Esch and Warren121 Hoople 95). This is indeed extreme, and shows the firstincidence in which the aspect of child neglect and child abuse occursin the book. The two children Miles and Flora thus first encounterthe governess` poor skills with regard to handling young children(Esch and Warren 109). This in essence spells horror for the readerand may be the reason as to why Henry James, the authors opted toincorporate ghost stories in the book.
Upon her arrival, the woman governor is shocked to find a house withhaunted ghosts (Esch and Warren 95). Two ghosts to be precise, whichas one reads on finds that they are Miss. Jessel, former governess toMiles and Flora and the second ghost being a former man-servant knownas Peter Quint who worked for the children`s uncle (Wilson 398).Before their departure to the next world, the former governess andthe manservant lived as a couple and took care of the two-orphanedchildren. In life they were a couple and cared for Miles and Flora,unfortunately both are said to have died under unclear circumstancessuch that the causes of both their deaths remains a mystery. Ms.Jessel’s cause of death is unknown, and Quint was found dead on theside of the road from a blow to head, perhaps from slipping on winterice (Kenton 69). At first, the governess is depicted as a caring andresponsible guardian as she shows her concern of the safety of thetwo young children due to the ghost threats in the house (Hoffman97). However, she does so selectively opting to remain with youngmaster Miles as she sends off Flora with Mrs. Grose after coming downwith a fever.
In this book, we see Mr. Quint make an unexpected reappearanceprompting the governess to hysterically go into an episode ofscreaming calling for this ghost to leave young Miles and her alone.She also screams at the ghost to cease forthwith form tormenting thehouse`s resident, that is the governess and young Miles (Hoffman 99).As this scene progresses, the young Miles while unaware of thepresence of Mr. Quint’s ghostly presence calls on him, “Quint?Quint?” (Esch and Warren 99). He then boyishly responds, “OhQuint, you devil!” (Esch and Warren 99). This shows that as much asthe governess is unaware of the child`s telepathic abilities ofcommunicating with the ghost of the former manservant, the youngmaster miles is seemingly oblivious of the threat the ghost poses totheir wellbeing. The book describes Miles` rushing to a window in aneffort to confront the ghost but the governess scared stiff abruptlygets a hold of him restraining him from getting to the window (Eschand Warren 101). As she soothes the young master Miles, Quint`s ghostslowly disappears leaving her with the lifeless corpse of young milesin her arms (Pigeon 23).
It is said that Henry James once confided that this ending is indeedto overwhelming for many of his readers and in essence is an ending,which says very much about the whole story. As such, the governessindeed got an abundant measure of a job she had asked for based onbeing with an attractive man. The shock factor in this ending isindeed overwhelming to any avid reader (Wilson 399 Shine 12). Assuch, the two ghosts may indeed be real threats to the children`swellbeing as portrayed by the governess. One can think of thisshocking incidence as a plan hatched by the ghosts of Mr Quint andMiss Jessel. As such, one may further contend with the possibilitythat the two ghosts were not satisfied with the treatment thegoverness and the uncaring uncle show towards these two children(Firebaugh 61). As such, one can argue that the ghosts loved thechildren so much, in this case young Miles such that they wouldrather have the child in the realm of the ghosts than in the hands ofsome uncaring living beings (Hoffman 101). These children havesuffered a lot as orphans such that no one seems to be concerned oftheir welfare apart from the two mean ghosts of their formercaretakers.
Upon reading this captivating book a fourth time, there are somestrange developments that tend to rise to the surface (Reed 416). Forinstance, some of the key characters in this book, that is Mrs.Grose, young Miles, nor young Flora at any one point ever admit orseem to be bothered at the ghostly presence of Ms. Jessel or Mr.Quint. All through the book, it is only the governess who claims toexperience these strange visitations and as such reacts to theireerie presence. This can be with the least of words be described asbeing quite odd. Shine (14) assert that throughout the book, the twoyoung children are depicted as evil and problematic children whoalthough they seem to be aware of the ghosts’ regular presence inthe house pretend not to be aware of any such occurrences. Thequestion arises what if there were no ghosts in the first place,what if the governess is mentally disturbed by her past sins, what ifit is an attempt by the governess to keep the children ever afraid?(Goddard 22). All this questions seem to have a single answer, thatis, the governess is not an able guardian and as such uses the fearof ghosts to threaten the children when they seem to go against herwishes. This implies that the governess not only physicallymishandles these two children but also attempts to keep them in astate of mental anguish. It is there quite possible that young Miles’heart stopped as a result of a high degree of fright or rather fromsuffocation on being held back by the governess and thus not as aresult of ghostly visitations from Mr. Quint (Hoffman 101).
From the onset of this book, the governess is seen to be activelyclaiming the two children as her own as she dearly calls them “mychildren,” or in the young boy`s case, “my Miles,” (Esch andWarren 113 Heilman 278). As much as she tends to abuse thesechildren, she says that their natural beauty such that she can wintheir uncle`s heart by showing her dedication towards showing tenderloving care to Miles and Flora. She goes on to make such hints as ifshe get to control Miles and Flora, she can work her way into being apart of the family by becoming the wife to their uncle. From thisbook, there is very little one can discern as to the background fromwhich the governess’s hails (Heilman 281). What one can tell of thegoverness is that she is a woman desperate for some of employment andas such is willing to do anything possible just to gain favor fromthe children`s uncle (Goddard 26). The speed at which she claims tohave fallen in love with the two children makes one think that shemay have head a child in her earlier days but may have lost it underunclear circumstances (Hoffman 97). She may be a victim of someunfortunate incidence such as a miscarriage, or an abortion stemmingfrom an unwanted pregnancy. As a single woman, she may have had tomaybe even give up her child for adoption if not losing it to amurderous case of abortion. One can thus argue that this may havebeen the source of her madness. As such, some scholars provide thatthis may be a case of postpartum depression, apparently before themodern world of psychology coined the term (Goddard 18).
It also possible to argue that, the late Mr. Quint may have had someform of misguided sexual obsession with Miles. As such, his ghostlyreappearances can be argued as attempts to have the young boy back tohimself again. This however does little in offering explanations asto why the ghost of Miss Jessel is so interested with the little MissFlora. All in all this seems to echo the theme of child abuse as iswith other incidences so vividly described by Henry James.
This book is indeed a tragic story the aspect of conflict withregard to social status is easily recognizable for the affair engagedby both Quint and Jessel. Their role as servants caring for the twochildren, their mysterious deaths, and as aggressive ghosts returningto claim the young children is rather ambiguous from a psychoanalyticperspective. They two children are unfortunate to encounter agoverness’s whose sole desperation is to find some purpose in lifeby offering care services to them. Miles and Flora are also victimsof the British imperialist system, as their parents die in India andare thus left with no responsible family member to take care of them.Fate seems to have dictated their situation in life. Quint and Jesselapparently play for power over the welfare of the two children evenin death. The governess, destroys what she hoped to live for, is thusleft alone. With no children and no livelihood, results of childabuse rob the governess of what she had hoped. In addition, as suchcontinues the turn of the screw.
The psychoanalytic critics see the aspects of the story as nightmareswhere James endeavors to transmit his aboriginal scene apprehensionsto the reader. As such, the critics see fantasy as a primeval scenenightmare and by connecting the fictitious characters in the book toreal characters, the author wanted to frighten the readers. In thisregard, one cannot accuse the critics of capitulating to deliberatefallacy as their criticism revels literary values. As such, thecritics mark the story as a reawakening of a nightmare preceded by anaccount of terrific nocturnal hallucination. On the other hand, theapparitionists see the ghosts as real supernatural entities and nothallucination. In this regards, the apparitionists try to scrutinizethe governess’s psychosomatic developments as she challenges anaccurately threatening situation. In this regards, the maindisagreement between the psychoanalytical critics and apparitionistis the way they see the ghosts with the apparitionist analyzing theghosts as real while the critics see the ghosts as phantasms of thegoverness. While the critics claim the governess is crazy, theapparitionists see the governess as a thrilling character.
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Heilman, Robert. "The Turn of the Screw as Poem." TheUniversity of Kansas City Review 14 (1948): 277-289.
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Kenton, Edna. "Henry James to the Ruminant Reader: The Turn ofthe Screw." The Arts. Vol. 6. 1924.
Pigeon, Elaine. Queer Impressions: Henry James` Art of Fiction.Routledge, 2013.
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Shine, Muriel G. The Fictional Children of Henry James: By MurielG. Shine. University of North Carolina Press, 1969.
Wilson, Edmund."The Ambiguity of Henry James." Hound and Horn 7(1934): 385-406.