The Delusional Governess in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw Essays

The Delusional Governess in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw Essays

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The existence of the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw has always been in debate. Instead of directly discussing whether the ghosts are real or not, this essay will focus on the reliability of the governess, the narrator of the story. After making a close examination of her state of mind while she is at Bly, readers of The Turn of the Screw will have many more clues to ponder again and to decide to what extent the governess can be believed. While critics like Heilman argue that there are problems with the interpretation that the governess was psychopathic, textual evidence incorporated with scientific research show that the governess did go through a period of psychical disorder that caused her insomnia, out of which she created hallucinations.

In the prologue, Douglas gave a detailed account of the master from the governess¡¦s point of view. She regarded him as ¡§handsome and bold and pleasant, off-hand and gay and kind; he struck her¡¨ (James 4). Later on we learn from Douglas that the governess accepted the job at Bly for the master¡¦s sake, and of course the generous salary offered by the master. Without any experience, the governess¡¦s passions for the master supported her to accept the job and confirmed her decision to take the challenge even though she feared not having the ability to accomplish the job. ¡§The moral of which was of course the seduction exercised by the splendid young man. She succumbed to it¡¨ (James 5). With the love for the master, the governess had the courage to visit the master again and eventually took the job. ¡§He held her hand, thanking her for the sacrifice, she already felt rewarded¡¨ (James 6). Her obsession with the master was somehow repressed owing to the absence of the master and the condi...


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...ose cannot be the proof of the reliability of the governess.

The issue whether the governess was insane or not may never be solved. Not only because critics seem to be able to find as much evidence as possible to prove their arguments but also, the reliability of the account of the governess colors the whole story with great ambiguity. We are not certain of the state of mind of the governess when she wrote down the story and when she related the story to Douglas. However, as we closely examine the state of mind of the governess, her reliability does appear to be in question. Beidler provided two readings of The Turn of the Screw and in the second one he declared: ¡§the governess saw only what she wanted to see¡¨ (Beidler 9). She was so exhausted from her prolonged insomnia that she envisioned a story with ghosts for herself to fulfill her growth as a governess.

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