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.


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).


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.



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)

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