The Last Turn of the Crew: A “Battle” between the Governess and Miles

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Henry James’ the Turn of the Screw, written in the Victoria era, tells a ghost story of a governess’s experience with two children in the house. By presenting the story in a symbolic way, the ambiguous narrative of the ghost story suggests an inner conflict of immorality and innocence in the governess. It also seems to imply a loss of insanity and a tragedy as a result of the oppression of desire. This paper will argue that chapter 23 is the most crucial part of the story, because it is the first moment the Governess found the weakness of the ghosts and has a real confrontation with the ghost indirectly through Miles. Miles’ suggestion of going out drives her to the wall, which leads to the tragic end that the only way for governess to protect Miles is to hold him in her, even it is too tight to kill him. The paper will first analyze important scenes in chapter 23. Then it will reveal the symbolic meanings and the latent conflicts in the story, which is significant to their “battle” in chapter 23 and the ending.

Before chapter 23, Flora is finally “corrupted” by Miss Jessel as the governess perceives, which signifies a failure of the governess to protect the children. The sudden change not only leaves the governess faces Miles alone, but also forces the governess to make a resolution. The governess realizes that the situation is “demanding […] only another turn of the screw” (79). And the final turn of the screw which push her into an extremely “unusual direction” (79) takes place in chapter 23.

The chapter starts with a vague dialogue between governess and Miles who are left alone. The governess first denies that they are not absolutely alone, implying the existence of the ghosts. However, Miles seems to accept that by answer...

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...riumph, Miles breaks that by asking for going out, which breaks her last nerve and sanity. The only thing the governess can do to defense her power and her innocence is to hold Miles tightly till his death so that “[Quint] has lost [Miles] forever” (87).

In conclusion, since the governess perceives the fight between the ghosts and her represents her inner fight of immoral and moral, the confrontation in chapter 23 is the last turn of the screw as the governess finally discovers the weakness of the ghost and it is the last chance for her to win. Mile’s request starts a quiet “fight” between them and drives the whole story to an extreme direction that the governess at last loses her sanity with an excessive protection that kills Miles. The story thus seems to imply an insanity and tragedy as a result of oppressed desire and sexuality in the special period of time.
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