Essay: The Turn of The Screw: Exposition and other mechanics

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The Turn of The Screw

The title relates to the text because throughout the novel the governess suspects possession of the children by the ghosts of Miss Jessel, the former governess, and Peter Quint. Because of her continuous thoughts of such ghosts, we believe that she might be hallucinating or her screws are turned, meaning she might be losing her mind. It could suggest that there are things that affect a person, just like the drilling of a screw is affected by the pressure and the direction in which it’s turned. Similarly, the governess was affected by the stories told by Mrs. Grose of the previous events and by the pressure placed on her to protect the children and satisfy the employer’s requirement of her job. We believe that this title was the most suitable for this novel over any other title because it correlates significantly with the governess’s actions and perceptions, which she’s identified by.

Opening chapter/first few pages

The novel begins at an old house on Christmas Eve where many people sit and listen to a story that Mr. Douglas shares. A story of two children, Flora and Miles, based on the accounts of his sister’s governess whom he used to love. He continues on telling her story to the attendants and the novel recalls the previous events that took place at Bly, the estate in which she worked and the children lived. The beginning pages give background information and set up the plot for the rest of the novel. They add a personal touch separate from the actual story of the governess and clears up any confusion the reader might have on the setting or the characters. We think the author might have wanted to begin the novel that way so the reader can get into the horrific mood and because he relates it to a period in his life where the tradition in England used to be gathering for Christmas time for ghost story telling. Hence, this makes his novel more applicable to the period in which he lived and build more connections and interest into the readers of that era. He incorporates many events of his life into it making it significantly unique and personal such as the characters from stories he heard or his love life. However, as current readers, we can build on his background using historical backgrounds to understand people’s thought process during that time.

Setting

The novel’s main setting takes place at a country home, Bly, in England in the June of 1898. The other setting is near the house, which is the lake nearby. The house is described as being pleasant with clear fronts of flowers, trees, and gravel and windows open and fresh curtains and many maids all joined by a golden sky. The lake, which is the Sea of Azof, is described by having benches, old trees with thick shrubbery. The environment in which they live is consistently affecting them. Religiously, the governess and the children don’t go to the church often, in fact, there’s only one scene that tells us they went to church. Mentally, the governess seems to be under lots of stress and being naive of previous occurrences in the house makes her hallucinate and lose her mind. Socially, the whole family is isolated from all the people in town and they rarely leave the house also. Economically, we believe that the employer and the children belong to a high class and status because they could afford to live in such big estate and had many servants. During the late 1800s, many technological advances were prompted due to the increase in capitalism and the willingness of entrepreneurs to give many innovators a chance at their inventions. As a result, sciences and mathematics were opening into wider spectrums. For example, science now included moral reasoning and the significant existence of subconsciousness and psychology. As a result, many people were understanding their thoughts and inferring the wrongdoings of the past generation at the supernatural aspect, which they believed were at hand in their society (i.e. witchcraft).

Characters

The Governess: She deals with the internal conflict of believing in apparitions and in ghosts that are pursuing the harm of the children. She begins acting on that, but no one else seems to see the ghosts. Hence, this creates a tension between her and the children, who avoid her and don’t believe her ghost sightings. The governess could be described as protective and suspicious because she is always on the guard to see what can affect the children and is always trying to make them stay out of harm of the ghost. She’s suspicious of the children’s actions and clearly notes every miniature thing they do.

Mrs. Grose: She has to deal with, sometimes, the absurdity of the governess and listen to her as well as add minimal knowledge to her of the past dealings in the estate. Sometimes, what the governess says to her makes her lose her balance and feels lightheaded and cry, which puts her in a bad state. Mrs. Grose is supportive and caring. She supports and follow on with the thoughts and plan that the governess has. She cares about the children just like the governess and is concerned about them.

Miles: He has to consistently act like nothing’s happening or mention of past events at Bly. In addition, he tries to avoid mentioning the names of the ghosts to the governess. Miles is cunning and mysterious because he is always up to something and hides information from the governess. We don’t get to know a lot about him and his actions are deceitful toward the governess and are unknown to her and even Mrs. Grose.

Flora: Just like Miles, she also has to act natural and not raise suspicion in the governess. Also, she can’t mention the name of the ghosts to the governess. Flora is affectionate and adventurous because she provides comfort for the governess and loves to take strolls by the lake outside the house.

Point of view

The novel begins with Mr. Douglas speaking, which is third person omniscient because he already knows the story of the governess and everything that has happened and as he reads the governess’s story, it changes to first person’s. She speaks of her experiences and the following events at Bly without any knowledge of other’s thoughts or prompted actions, just providing her opinions and assumptions from her point by using words like “I”. Unlike the rest of the novel, in the prologue, Mr. Douglas already knows what happened in the story to all characters.

Main conflict

The main conflict of the novel is that the governess is seeing the apparitions of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, and she is worried whether they will harm the children. Although it can be debated whether these ghosts are real, if these ghosts did exist, they would most directly affect Flora and Miles by negatively influencing them with immoral ideas or physical harm. The governess is involved since it seems only she is able to see these apparitions (or at least the children do not want to acknowledge them) and she is responsible for taking care of the children, so if harm were to befall them, she would feel guilty and be fired from her job. Mrs. Grose is indirectly involved in this conflict as well since she also cares deeply for Flora and Miles, and she is the person who consoles the governess and supports her goal of getting rid of the ghosts.

Commentary on plot, etc.

Values of Characters

The Governess: The governess wishes the best for each individual person in the novel, which is evident through her caring personality towards Miles and Flora. The governess’ purpose is to provide an example to the readers that supernatural elements cannot only harm someone physically but also mentally. The society of the book influenced the governess because back in the 1800s, people believed in supernatural elements which are exemplified by witchcraft trials previously. In addition, the members of society discuss the past events regarding those who were in the governess’s former place. Therefore, it acts as a way to play with the governess’s mental state in order to develop the behavior and reactions she has to the two characters, who are preconceived as ghosts.

Mrs. Grose: Mrs. Grose believes in holding trust among the governess despite the governess’s constant suspicion. In addition, she also makes sure the children are being cared for properly just like the governess because she had taken care of the children prior to the arrival of the governess. Mrs. Grose’s purpose is to be the housekeeper in Bly and she plays the role of the only source that is available to obtain information about Miss Jessel and Peter Quint. The society of the book influenced Mrs. Grose through the concept of higher status. In the novel, Mrs. Grose’s employer is superior to her and the person of higher rank in society causes her to fear to anger her employer, which prevents her from involving the employer into the conflict early.

Miles: Miles is one of the two children that the governess is taking care. Throughout the plot, he values working together with his sister such as switching spots in distracting the governess. In addition, he also values his relationship with Peter Quint. He has become corrupt from Quint influencing negatively by teaching him bad words when they spent so much time together. Miles’s purpose in the book is to play the role of the deception towards the governess with his attractiveness and charming personality. He distracts the governess from noticing his abnormality and cleverness in order to convince the governess that her time taking care of the children will be perfectly normal and run smoothly. Society has influenced Miles through the personalities of the other members of the society due to Miles’s young age and inability to distinguish what is right and wrong. Peter Quint is suspected of having taught the child immoral ideas.

Flora: Flora values using the proper manner necessary for each situation as well as working with her brother, indicating she values the connection to her family members. Flora’s purpose is to mislead the governess into thinking that everything is going smoothly. She shows her affectionate and well-mannered side to make her first misconduct a shock to the readers and the governess. Society has influenced Flora because her sightings such as those of Miss Jessel which she knows are abnormal have caused her to feel reticent about herself in order to avoid talking about the ghost.

Peter Quint: Peter seemed to care about sexual promiscuity and embraced actions preconceived to be immoral in society. Peter’s purpose is to be the ghost or the hallucination to instigate the governess’s behavior and actions in the book. Peter has been influenced by society because his personality clashed with moral ideas established in society. Society made him realize he doesn’t fit with moral standards causing him to be involved with terrible actions such as drinking and then having slipped on an icy path, which led to his death.

Miss Jessel: Having been the previous governess, Miss Jessel also values the children and hoped that she took good care of the children when she was alive. Her purpose is to be the ghost or the hallucination to instigate the governess’s behavior and actions in the book. She is used as the source that the governess believes wants to take Flora’s soul. In the book, she is described as wearing black and is always mournful. She is influenced by society because the societal belief is that the color black is associated with death. Due to her death, she takes that typical belief and embraces it to where the governess develops fearful thoughts about her possible influence on the children.

Plot

Summary

A governess arrives at an estate called Bly to take care of two children named Miles and Flora. She suspects that the children are having interaction with Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, two individuals who are preconceived as ghosts in the novel; she’s highly attentive to the children’s actions.

Freytag’s Pyramid

List any parallel or recurring events you see

A recurring event that is evident in the book is the concept of hubris which is known as excessive pride or self-confidence. The governess relies on her hubris in order to dictate the fate of the children and the validity of the haunted house. She consistently believes her suspicions to be true and she stands by her preconceived notions about what will happen to the children as they continue to be in the presence of the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel.

See if you can make a connection between this work and another story with similar plot line or similar characters, etc.

Turn of the Screw is similar to The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. In The Raven, the narrator hears tapping on his door and tells himself that it is simply a late night visitor. However, when he opens the door, he only hears the word “Lenore,” which is a reference to the name of his wife who he lost. A raven arrives speaking of the words “Nevermore.” His lack of understanding of what all this means causes the narrator to experience an irrational behavior including where he believes that he is becoming mentally insane. This connects to this book’s plotline because the governess was also unable to fully interpret the message that she was supposed to receive from the appearance of the ghosts before her. It affected her mentally which led to her to sometimes have ludicrous conversations with the Mrs. Grose about the children and their interactions with the ghost.

About the conclusion–was it a satisfactory ending to the work? Why/why not? If not, how would you have ended the work, and why?

The conclusion was not a satisfactory ending to the work. The plotline took a long time to develop causing the ending to feel completely rushed and abrupt to readers. In addition, through the plot, readers would have developed questions about the plot that should have been answered in the conclusion. However, a majority was left unanswered and the unsatisfactory ending had actually raised new questions. When Miles died in the governess’s arms after seeing Peter Quint, the author just ended abruptly with the death and did not conclude with any further explanations regarding what happened with Mrs. Grose and Flora as well as the feelings of the governess after the death. The plot should have ended with information on what happened after Miles’s death including how the news was delivered to Mrs. Grose and Flora as well as how the governess felt afterward. This gives the readers closure as to how the death affected all the other characters. In addition, the ending would have been more satisfactory if the letter to the employer was sent and readers have the opportunity to see how the employer would have reacted to Miles’s death.

Memorable lines/scenes (minimum of 6 lines-3 for A, 3 for B)

Memorable lines from the book that you liked or that illustrated important ideas in the work.

“‘Think me–for a change–bad!’ I shall never forget the sweetness and gaiety with which he brought out the word, nor how, on top of it, he bent forward and kissed me. It was practically the end of everything. I met his kiss and I had to make, while I folded him for a minute in my arms, the most stupendous effort not to cry.’” (James 46)

What makes this line so important is that it summarizes the main idea that is prevalent throughout the story: that the governess adores Miles to the point of disregarding any odd situation he creates. Ever since from the beginning of the book, there has been this unrequited and excessive adoration for both Miles and Flora that was instantly born from the governess. The whole phenomenon of it is questionable and entirely odd: why are they so lovable? Why does she have such a strong and one-sided love for these children? For what reasons is her infatuation there? and many questions of the like. James leaves the reasons behind her infatuation ambiguous to his readers, which adds to the intensity in which his readers can interpret the governess’ love for the children. The quote reinforces the idea of how the governess can so easily discount Miles’ concerning explanation for being mischievous and melt in his loveliness just because she adores him that much, and it adds to the overall slightly uncomfortable and mysterious mood that shrouds the book.

“… she was hideously hard; she had turned common and almost ugly. ‘I don’t know what you mean. I see nobody. I see nothing. I never have. I think you are cruel. I don’t like you! … Take me away- oh take me away from her!” (James 199).

This quotation is a crucial turning point in the novel since it reveals that the apparitions of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are most likely just the hallucinations of the governess. Throughout the novel, the governess had constantly insisted that the children were able to see the ghosts the entire time and were only refusing to reveal this fact, however, this scene disproves her claim greatly. Therefore, the governess’ mental stability would be most vulnerable to the criticisms of the book’s characters and the readers as we question whether she should be trusted. The readers also may draw the conclusion that the governess is delusional for being so adamant on the existence of the ghosts despite the evidence suggesting otherwise. Another significance of this quotation is that it is one of the few times that the governess is able to overcome her captivation with the children’s charms and see how their personalities truly are within: darker, manipulative, and more common.

“‘Peter Quint–you devil!’…They are in my ears still, his supreme surrender of the name and his tribute to my devotion. ‘What does he matter now, my own?’…I held him–it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.” (James 86-87)

The whole section of the book in which the quote was derived from screams “ambiguous”. On the surface level, the quote is memorable because there is an abrupt and incohesive series of events, which prompts the literary device of situational irony. Miles’ death was never expected or anticipated to have happened. The quote summarizes a recurring paranoiac issue that the governess faces throughout the entire novel and provides an unprecedented, yet fitting, effect due to those very issues. The quote enhances the meaning by shadowing all the characters (Miles) under the governess’ light, wrapping the whole plot and narration around her thoughts and corrupted mentality.

Find quotations that illustrate the writer’s skill in establishing mood/tone, imagery, symbolism, and characterization.

“[T]hese three words from her were in a flash like the glitter of a drawn blade the jostle of the cup that my hand for weeks and weeks had held high and full to the brim and that now, even before speaking, I felt overflow in deluge” (James 196).

This scene of the novel was when the governess had come to the painful realization that Flora had successfully distracted her away from Miles. The quotation utilizes an extended simile and vivid imagery to appeal to the reader’s senses and emotions. By comparing the shocking effect of Flora’s words on the governess to a blade that causes a cup to overflow, a medieval and noble cause is associated with the situation. As a result, the overall mood and tone are dramatic and forlorn, allowing the readers to feel the emotion of overwhelming defeat and helplessness.

“The limit of this evil time had arrived only when, on the dawn of a winter’s morning, Peter Quint was found, by a laborer going to early work, stone dead on the road from the village: a catastrophe explained–superficially at least–by a visible wound to his head…by a fatal slip, in the dark and after leaving the public house…arid in liquor….” (James 27)

Many of the senses are engaged within the quote: the desolate and dull brightness of dawn, the chilliness of winter air, the jarring scene to witness in the pale light, and the painful sharp inhale of cold air. James demonstrates his skills in including imagery and mood by creating an atmosphere that has a personality of its own, where he vividly describes the scene so that readers feel like they are witnesses themselves. He is also to characterize Peter Quint without needing to blatantly state it: with his choice of diction and events, he has established Peter Quint as a careless drunkard who had a fateful death on a symbolic winter day.

Commentary

“ ‘It was Quint’s own fancy. To play with him, I mean- to spoil him.’ She paused a moment; then she added:’Quint was much too free … Too free with everyone!’ “ (James 145) In this scene of the novel, Mrs. Grose is describing the personality of Peter Quint to the governess, which allows her and the reader to learn more about his values and character. This quotation reveals that Peter Quint was sexually promiscuous and often took advantage of others. He is noted of corrupting Miss Jessel and Miles, spending excessive times with each in secret and engaging in immoral relationships. As a result of this discovery, the governess becomes more concerned for the wellbeing of Flora and Miles since she doesn’t want Quint to negatively influence them, thus revealing her protective and righteous personality.

Theme and other abstract ideas

What are the major themes of the work? Provide a short phrase for each theme.

Corruption of innocence: The corruption of the children’s innocence was strongly influenced by the Governess and the ghosts. Their innocence was taken away through the course of events of the story as we get to know more about the children, and how they think.

Appearance reflects personality: The governess’s youth reflects on how she performs her job, and how she thinks and takes care of the children. She does immature actions like hiding the headmaster’s letter, and taking on a job with little contact with her employer.

Being a hero is harder than it looks: Many times in this book the governess’s try to be a hero because that’s what she thinks is best for the children.

How is each theme portrayed in the book?

Corruption of innocence: In The Turn of the Screw, the theme of corruption of innocence strongly fuels the governess’ fear regarding the ghosts and the children. She wants the apparitions of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel to leave because she doesn’t want them to negatively influence Flora and Miles with immoral thoughts or behaviors. The governess focuses almost entirely on the corruption of the children and whether they were corrupted by Quint and Jessel (when they were alive), and whether they continue to be corrupted by ghosts. Even before the governess knew about Quint, she accuses Miles of corrupting other children. The governess doesn’t exactly tell us if she thinks the ghosts will physically harm or the children. But after Miles sudden death, they saw the ghosts as a real threat. For the governess, the children’s exposure to knowledge of sex (other types of information that children shouldn’t know) is a far more terrifying than the thought of ghosts haunting her or being killed by them. In her attempt to save the children, she began to find out what kind of information they knew to make them confess, rather than to predict and hope for the best for what might happen to them in the future. Her fear of innocence being corrupted seems to be a big part of the reason she was hesitant for the majority of the book. In the end, the governess’s fears are destructive and do not result in her saving the children.

Appearance reflects personality: The governess’s youth and inexperience suggest that the responsibility of caring for the two children and being in charge of the entire estate is more than she could possibly bear, yet she does not look for help. Her isolation is largely her employer’s fault because he chooses to remain absent and specifically tells her to deal with all problems by herself. However, the governess responds to her experiences at Bly by taking on, even more, responsibility like burying the headmaster’s letter and keep Miles at home; to be the one who sees the ghosts rather than the children and who attempts to screen them from any exposure to the ghosts; and to save the children from the ghosts’ corrupting influence. These decisions are all self-conscious and she wasn’t forced to make them because she couldn’t think of another way to respond. Instead, she deliberately chooses to view these challenges as “magnificent” opportunities to please the master and deludes herself into thinking that the master recognizes her sacrifices. Clearly, she is misguided on both counts.

Being a hero is harder than it looks: In The Turn of the Screw, this theme is demonstrated by the governess’ avid attempts to protect the children from the “ghosts,” but she only makes the situation worse by causing unnecessary grief in the children and Mrs. Grose. A more specific example is that in the final scene of the novel, the governess tries to warn Miles of Peter Quint’s ghost but her panic causes Miles to become overwhelmed and die. When Flora gets sick, she was forced to leave the estate and vowed to never speak to the governess again. Whether or not the governess was correct in thinking that the children were being haunted, she was definitely wrong in thinking she could be the hero who saves them. The fact that the governess was misguided in adopting a heroic stance suggests several interpretations. One possibility is that the forces of corruption are too powerful for one person to oppose. Perhaps the governess could have succeeded only with the united efforts of the school and the uncle, and perhaps the children could not have been saved. Another possible reason why her heroism might have been inappropriate is that childhood and innocence may be too fragile to be protected in such an aggressive fashion. The governess’s attempt to protect the children may have been more damaging than the knowledge from which she wanted to protect them.

What are the moral and ethical problems explored in the story?

One of the moral problems of the story is the contrast between good vs. evil. When the Governess just meets the Miles, she instantly notices his beauty and sees him as an innocent little boy. The fact that he was expelled for his behavior was shocking. She decided that she wanted the best for the children and take care of them because their beauty overshadowed their actions. The moral belief that we shouldn’t judge someone by what they look like, and the governess did exactly that. One ethical problem in this story was dishonesty. It was never clear whether or not the governess’ ghosts were real, but when Miles said he say Quint near the window that night, it gave us a hint that the children kept it a secret or lied. There was also the issue with the letter she wrote to their employer.

What was the author’s purpose in writing this book?

The author’s purpose in writing this book is to incite readers with information on the field of spiritual phenomenon. During the late 1800s, many people began to be involved in the field of sciences and advanced the ideologies associated with science. People began to become aware of the subconscious as well as psychology. Therefore, by writing this book, he hopes to show how absurd people have thought of the supernatural and how it has affected people’s behaviors and actions. For example, the governess is ignorant and represents the majority of the population that is mainly dependent on supernatural for explaining the natural world.

Does the author use imagery, symbolism, allusions, etc. to develop his/her themes? How?

Imagery: James’ use of imagery adds a personal, more tangible touch to the theme of the story so that readers can have more realistic images of the story. When the author creates the setting by describing the time of day, the weather, the season, and the sounds, readers are able to experience the text, and in turn the theme, where it’s reinforced, on a more personal level. Henry James described out the yard was large but was only occupied by her and Peter Quint, who was on the top of the castle. It was a chilly winter night, emphasizing the deadliness and foreshadowing bad outcomes from introducing Peter Quint in this light, hence, corrupting innocence.

Symbolism: The author’s use of symbolism develops the theme by creating nearly tangible apparitions that force the characters to progress and develop in their values and actions in order to deal with such an occurrence. Through the spirits (or debatably the illusion) of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, the main characters are forced to interact with symbols that prompt them to realize and deal with the history that is behind them. Peter Quint symbolized the denaturing of Miles’ perfect youth and innocence by perverting his mindset through unmentionable means.

Diction: The author’s choice of diction in this book involved a lot of formal words that helped set the scene and time of the story. The author, of course, uses higher vocabulary to show class and manners of the characters. He also used a lot of punctuation, and italics to emphasize certain parts of the text, and to make the scenes more interesting and suspenseful. And with short chapters and a lot of dialogue, it helped readers use imagery to visualize the scenes.

Foreshadowing: Henry James uses foreshadowing by writing his narrator to reflect upon her past actions and suggest that worst events are to occur in the future. This foreshadowing contributes to the novel’s theme of the correlation between appearance and personality/character. Throughout the novel, the narrator (the governess) mentions how she was so captivated by the charms of Flora and Miles, describing how innocent and pleasant they seemed. Often after, however, she foreshadows that their outward beauty is a tool of manipulation and that they were hiding darker secrets that were soon to be revealed later in the book.

Style

Two words that can describe the author’s overall style are as follows: interpretable and complex. These two words encompass James’ style because it exemplifies the vagueness that he chooses to write with, combined with his choice of diction/syntax. Every occurrence or significant event in the book is left up to interpretation. For example, during the governess’ encounter with Peter Quint, an event ridden her with fear and questions, she commits the exact same scenario with Mrs. Grose: “I gave her something of the shock that I had received. She turned white, and this made me ask myself if I had blanched as much. She stared, in short, and retreated on my lines…she had passed out…I wonder why she should be scared.” (21) There is a clear parallel and cycle that is symbolic to the lore of the novel, possibly foreshadowing a certain event or connection with other ghosts. Whether that is a viable interpretation is left to the readers, and it acts as a useful blackhole in the book meant for imagination.

Another example that display James’ mastery at creating interpretable writing was at the end of the book where Miles unforeseeably dies. His death can be due to many theories: that he was dispossessed from Quint and that led to his death; he died from pure horror and panic; or the governess, out of her disillusionment, smothered the boy to death. Since the death was the closing scene of the book, no explanation is provided. The complexity in which James arranges events and words adds to the plot of the story well.

How does the author’s diction, grammar, sentence structure, organization, point of view, detail, syntax, and irony enhance the meaning of the work and show his/her attitude?

The diction, grammar, and syntax of the novel are very formal and reflect the writing style of the time period in which it was written: the late 19th century. Complex words like “perturbation” and lugubriously” wouldn’t be commonly understood today, but back then, this educated vocabulary would provide vivid adjectives that’d enhance the imagery of the characters and their actions. The structured grammar and syntax convey the narrator’s emotional and straightforward attitude. Interestingly, as the plot approaches the end of the novel, the chapters become shorter and shorter. By using this chapter structure, James builds suspense towards the final climactic scene. And by ending the book shockingly and abruptly, James successfully causes readers to feel frustrated and surprised.Henry James also uses dramatic irony to increase suspense in the novel and demonstrate his melodramatic attitude/tone. Throughout the book, the narrator speaks in the past tense as she reflects on her previous naivety and foreshadows negative events to come.

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