Maternal Instinct in The Turn of the Screw

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Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is one of the more disputed texts in all of literature, as it is famously known as an ambiguous text. The primary uncertain element of is whether there are ghosts scaring the governess and the children, or whether the governess is actually going insane. Even though a certain portion of the text is ambiguous, there are other portions of the text that are much more black and white. For example, the relationships in this novella are nothing close to normal. There are three key relationships in The Turn of the Screw: the Governess and Mrs. Grose, the Governess and Miles, and the governess and Flora. All of these relationships show how the governess’s maternal instinct influences her interactions and decisions with each of the characters. The first way in which all three of the interactions will be abnormal is due to the governess’s employed position: head of the house. At the historical time period in which The Turn of the Screw was written, society was predominantly patriarchal and women were rarely put into positions of authority. Abnormality is called exactly that for a good reason: it is not normal and it usually makes others very uncomfortable. Thus it is logical to assume that since the people living at Bly estate are not used to having a woman being in charge, they are not likely to view the governess in a typical, and hardly authoritative light, with extra emphasis added onto Mrs. Grose. Since she has been maintaining the house as the head servant since before the governess was there, Mrs. Grose is very familiar with the history of the entire situation, both of the family and of the estate. Therefore, whenever something important happens, Mrs. Grose is going to know more than the governess... ... middle of paper ... ... The appearance of the correlation is hardly coincidental and should have been seen from a mile away. All in all, the governess definitely has good intentions, and absolutely means the best for the children; however good intentions do not always translate into proper action. The governess’s maternal instincts are heavily present, but they are nowhere near competent, since the governess failed to keep one of the children alive. Therefore, the governess should not have been put into the position at Bly estate with so little experience. If someone else had been put into the governess’s position, it is highly likely that the outcome would have ended up vastly different, and Miles would still be alive. Works Cited James, Henry. “The Turn of the Screw,” The Turn of the Screw ED. Third Edition. Ed. Peter G. Biedler. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. 22-120. Print.
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