Turn of the Screw- a Look at the Supernatural

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Over the years, Henry James' short story, "The Turn of the Screw," has provokes great discussion and debate, as it concerns the ongoing question of the existence of the supernatural. "The Turn of the Screw" relays the story of a young governess, sent to the secluded, mysterious estate of Bly to supervise two young children, Miles and Flora, her employers nephew and niece. The housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, seems to be the only adult the governess develops a relationship with and is used by James to create ambiguity concerning the truth of the happenings of Bly. Having been persuaded by the charm of her employer to accept the job, the governess arrives at the house only to be greeted by the strange appearances of apparitions she concludes to be former employees of the house, Miss Jessel, the governess, and Peter Quint, the master's valet. While the children deny the existence of such ghosts, the governess' vivid sightings of the apparitions and the children's development of adult-like behavior support the anti-Wisonian view that the spirits of Miss Jessel and Quint are indeed real, having returned from death to possess the souls of Miles and Flora.

The vivid sightings of the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel by the governess makes clear the reality of what she has seen. After having sighted the male apparition for the second time the governess relays both incidents to Mrs. Grose, accurate enough for the housekeeper to recognize the description. The governess recalls, "'He has red hair, very red, close-curling, and a pale face, long in shape, with straight good features and little rather queer whiskers that are as red as his hair. His eyebrows are somehow darker; they look particularly arched...his eyes are sharp, strange...his mouth's wide, and his lips are thin, and except for his little whiskers he's quite clean-shaven'" (29). From this sole description Mrs. Grose is able to identify the man as Peter Quint, whom she explains to the master's former valet who has died. Since the governess has never before seen or heard of Peter Quint, the only source of her memory is the apparition itself meaning that it must in fact exist. Again when the governess sights the ghost of the former governess, Miss Jessel, across the lake she tells Mrs. Grose it was "a figure of quite as unmistakeable horror and evil: a woman in black, pale and dreadful-with such an air also, and such a face" (37). While it was the governess who introduces the idea that the second apparition is Miss Jessel, Mrs. Grose agrees with the conclusion, displaying the ease in which the housekeeper is able to be influenced.

It is for her easily persuaded character that James is able to create ambiguity through Mrs. Grose in "The Turn of the Screw." Upon the governess' questioning concerning Peter Quint's relationship with Miles, Mrs. Grose reveals that Quint was "too free with every one" (32), especially Miles. This comment introduces the idea that his "freedom" was of a sexual manner, creating an unnatural emotional relationship between Miles and Flora and Quint. Through this relationship James establishes a connection between the innocence and corruption co-existent within Miles and Flora, previously established by his diction. Upon the governess' first view of Flora she describes her as "a creature too charming not to make it a great fortune to have to do with her" (10), full of "angelic beauty" (10) and Miles as "incredibly beautiful' (17). These words are the culmination of everything appearing to be perfect and innocent, just as the governess sees the children as being. After receiving the letter from Miles school saying he has been dismissed the governess describes him in accordance with his actions as "an injury...to his poor little innocent mates" (14) and his doings at a level "to contaminate" and "corrupt" (15) others. Such words are harsh and associated with an opposite supernatural realm as "angelic," associating the children to the corruption of...
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