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 narrators 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 First, Miles is withdrawn from school, and then the young lady begins to see people where she shouldnt be seeing anyone.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 ladys despair, and Miss Jessel.) The rest of the novel is dedicated to showing the young ladys 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 Peters 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, an 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 steady supply of information.
Another example of the narrators 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 apparitions 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 narrators 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 narrators lunacy. Even the last sentence of the novel displays the narrators 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 Ive read, I agree with Leon Edel 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 couldnt 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 narrators 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 hadnt even considered. While some interesting aspects were brought to my attention, I dont 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 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 Wilsons 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; Floras 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 isnt 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 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 isnt 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 isnt much deeper than that.