Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw": Are The Ghosts Actually Real? Essay

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Through out the short novella, 'The Turn of the Screw,' by Henry James, the governess continually has encounters with apparitions that seem to only appear to her. As Miles' behavior in school worsens so that he is prevented from returning, and as Flora becomes ill with a fever, the governess blames these ghosts for corrupting the children, Miles and Flora, and labels them as evil and manipulative forces in their lives. But why is it that these ghosts only seem to appear to the governess even when the children are present at the time of the sightings by the governess? Evidence from the short story leads the reader to believe that the ghosts are not real but are merely the evidence of the fragmenting sanity of the governess.
When the governess first arrives at the small town of Bly to begin her assignment over the niece and nephew of her employer, she describes her self as having gone through many ups and downs in terms of her emotional and possibly mental state. She says, "I remember the whole thing as a succession of flights and drops a little see saw of write throbs and the wrong" (page 121). It appears evident even from the beginning of the story that the governess is not in an 'even keeled' state of mind, neither stable nor calm enough to hand the task set before her in any means.
And after her one day in Bly, the governess experiences another low in her emotional state after the high from meeting the children. The governess continues to describe the household and compares it to a ship caught adrift at sea of which she is the captain (page125). This metaphor is used to describe the situation at Bly but can also be used to foreshadow the impending doom of her mental state as if her sanity were that ship uncontro...

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...eives nothing from the children. It should be obvious to the reader at this point that the children are obviously in no way doing any wrong and are telling the truth to the best of their knowledge. The continual obsession of the governess over maintaining the protection and innocence of the children gets so severe that it causes Flora to come down with a serious fever and Miles grows seemingly weaker and sicker without his sister there with her.
In conclusion, it is not the ghosts, as the governess suspected, that are corrupting the children, but the governess herself, through her continually worsening hysteria that is corrupting the children. Both Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are not real ghosts that have the peculiar habit of appearing before the governess and the governess alone but they are merely the signs of the fragmenting mental state of the governess.

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