Corruption of the Innocent in The Turn of the Screw

Categories: The Turn of The Screw

In the novella The Turn of the Screw, destroying the youth as the scaring and scarring from the literal ghosts and figurative ghosts shaped and impacted the children in the novella The Turn of the Screw. The seemingly harmless ghosts add fear as they become a physical threat. This lead to the utter corruption of the children. Personally it was reading a good thriller/mystery novel that was my favorite but never would I find myself reading a book this scary.

My original choice for my literary exploration to this because there was an assumption that his would be a good read for me and also thought it was a good idea for me to branch out of what is a comfortable ead.

The original essential question at the beginning of this exploration was for the first novel and was “How does love survive in the pain and horrors of its surroundings?” Then it was changed to “ do we always see things how they are or do we simply imagine them?” This has left and shared a love hate thought when being left not knowing whether the ghosts were real or not.

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It was unsatisfactory not having a solid answer but the idea of letting the reader decide what that answer may be was a plus.

Not only was there a common theme of corrupting the youth but similar to the way it was left not having a clear answer by the end of the novel, there was a theme of lack of clarity in communication, in other words vagueness included in punishments.

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For example the left unknown without further explanation at “ in regard to Griffin’s ghost, or whatever it was – that it’s appearing first to the little boy, at so tender an age, adds a particular touch. But it’s not the first occurrence of it’s charming kind that I know to have involved a child” (320). That the “finishes with a questioning that includes the title. But the first focus of this quote is left eerie as the phrasing “not the first occurrence” (432). implies that something similar has occurred before or in the past.

Besides the obvious issue of not knowing about the ghosts being real or not, I struggle with the good versus evil concept seen in how this plays into a lesson of any sort. How evil can destroy the good is one of the scariest ideas of them all. This idea with in itself happens to be realistic, making it even more eerie. Also certain things are pinned down as being either good or evil even when they don’t necessarily fit into those categories. And example of this is when Miss Jessel is referenced “ Another person – this time; but a figure of quite as unmistakable horror and evil: a woman in black, pale and dreadful – with such an error also, and such a face”, I think this was a way of making both good and evil distinct in this novel.

I felt the most compelling literary elements were found in the difference between the tone and style, this helped with personal tones of characters, the overall scary tone of the novel, and it bolded the emotions for the reader. I also found the symbolism and constant imagery fascinating. That being said I was surprised by the type of text of the piece and how to adapt to it. I’ve also never had that personal feeling of fear so deeply in a novel, this certainly challenged my preconceptions. I found in the novella there was gender as a topic of interest that seem to lack ever so slightly in the movie version, I believe it was the specificity of the wording of the novella.

“This person proved, on her presenting herself, for judgment, at a house in Harley Street, that impressed her as vast and imposing – this prospective patron proved a gentleman, a bachelor in the prime of life, such a figure as had never risen, save in a dream or an old novel, before a fluttered, anxious girl out of a Hampshire vicarage. One could easily fix this type; it never, happily, dies out. He was handsome and bold and pleasant, offhand and gay and kind. He struck her, inevitably, as gallant and splendid, but what took her most of all and gave her the courage she afterward showed was that he put the whole thing to her as a kind of favor, an obligation he should gratefully incur. She conceived him as rich, but as fearfully extravagant – saw him all in a glow of high fashion, of good looks, of expensive habits, of charming ways with women” (Prologue.13)

And of the most challenged perception of the novella is the Constant question of whether the ghosts are real or not, in other words is she mentally insane or was everything real. There is also a common concept to mention, good versus evil.

“I got hold of this; then, instinctively, instead of returning as I had come, went to the window. It was confusedly present to me that I ought to place myself where he had stood. I did so; I applied my face to the pane and looked, as he had looked, into the room. As if, at this moment, to show me exactly what his range had been, Mrs. Grose, as I had done for himself just before, came in from the hall. With this I had the full image of a repetition of what had already occurred. She saw me as I had seen my own visitant; she pulled up short as I had done; I gave her something of the shock that I had received. She turned white, and this made me ask myself if I had blanched as much. She stared, in short, and retreated on just my lines, and I knew she had then passed out and come round to me and that I should presently meet her. I remained where I was, and while I waited I thought of more things than one. But there’s only one I take space to mention. I wondered why she should be scared” (4.6).

I chose to watch The Turn of the Screw as a movie because it adds a more visual effect and also puts me out of my comfort zone. When I read The Turn of the Screw I am able to pace myself, unlike the movie where I find myself taking in everything quicker, thus making it scarier. There is a psychiatrist in the beginning of the movie, something that wasn’t in the book but I found it fascinating, the governess is in a mental hospital looking back at this story as a memory. The staff is very creepy in the movie on the governess’ first impressions and sets the mood for the audience. I like how both the movie and the book have a first person narrative, I especially find it to be make more sense that she be telling it from the asylum.

I find it fascinating the way that the laughing of Flora is so eerie, also in the book I pictured Flora as being much younger. The grounds of Bly are surprisingly similar to how I pictured it from the book, even the way the windows lacked a glisten and the darkness of the rust really captured the essence of the environment. The man on the tower that the governess sees was well done, I particularly like that the lack of detail, it made no association with someone we may have seen. The governess’ attraction to the Uncle is much more apparent in the movie as she has frequent fantasies. In the movie as Master Miles returns home from school with Flora in the movie they both seem scared to return home but once they get inside a little later they are both giggling, it doesn’t quite add up in my opinion and I think the novel provides me with a better understanding of the emotions despite the somewhat difficult to read text.

I find the book to be much more enjoyable in that the relationship between the governess and Mrs. Grose is much more friendlier. The Illuminating text highlights and proposes the ghosts were real and in the book it remains much more unknown, she is going to be hung for the death of the child but in “her” story it’s the ghost and not her. Like the governess in the book says “Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was”.The illuminating text was much more straightforward and did help me to better understand the story yet I felt there was a deeper thinking needed to interpret certain details in the novel. Thus altering my thinking.

In Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw through the character of the governess, James shows how repressed sexuality can manifest itself in different ways like hallucinations of ghosts. This sort of repression can lead completely normal people to becoming disturbed, causing serious bodily and physiological harm to themselves and the people they are in closest contact with. The series of events depicted in The Turn of the Screw seem to show this idea, this is known by the use of sexual connotations and is also implied throughout.

It made me, the sound of the words, in which it seemed to me that I caught for the very first time a small faint quaver of consenting consciousness – it made me drop on my knees beside the bed and seize once more the chance of possessing him.

‘Dear little Miles, dear little Miles, if you knew how I want to help you! It’s only that, it’s nothing but that, and I’d rather die than give you a pain or do you a wrong – I’d rather die than hurt a hair of you. Dear little Miles’ – oh, I brought it out now even if I should go too far – ‘I just want you to help me to save you!’ But I knew in a moment after this that I had gone too far. (17.25) This is one of the many quotes that shows repression in the novella

The first piece of criticism I read was “The Freudian Reading of The Turn of the Screw,” by Robert B. Heilman. Heilman argued against the Freudian perspective that the apparitions were not real and just the manifestation of the governess’s repressed sexual feelings towards the master of Bly. Heilman makes the case that the Freudians, are misguided and that the apparitions are actually observed by the governess and others. Heilman points out that the Freudians leave out several crucial facts, for example they fail to note that the governess was able to find respectable employment after the events at Bly. Heilam believes that the conduct of the children has failed to be addressed by the Freudians and this messes up their understanding of the novel, writing, “In the first place, their night-time escapades are, for an eight and a ten year old, virtually beyond the bounds of physical possibility,”(Heilman 440) and, “The fact that they are earnestly and are sophisticated evasive in their gay response to questioning is one of James’s subtlest ways of suggesting moral disorder,” (Heilman 440). Clearly, Heilman believes that the Freudian reading of The Turn of the Screw fails to be supported by the text and the majority of their insights should be disregarded.

The second piece of criticism I found was from The New Yorker and written by Brad Leithauser. Brad found substantial evidence for showing that several interpretations of the novella were weak. Leithauser, in his criticism, Ever Scarier: On “The Turn of the Screw,” assesses the Freudian stance as extreme. He finds the common approach to what the specific answer to the question are the ghosts real? along with countless other details that are found in the novella, limits the interpretation because it restricts ourselves to viewing characters a particular way along with how the storyline is to be interpreted it self. Leithauser chooses to focus on dissecting what Freud really means and states that Freudian readers have misconstrued the meaning “solve” and how initially it plays out to be important. Leithauser writes,

“All such attempts to “solve” the book, however admiringly tendered, unwittingly work towards it diminution. Yes, if we choose to accept the reality of the ghosts, “The Turn of the Screw” presents a bracing account of rampant terror. (This is the way I first read it, in my teens)” ( Leithauser 2). As seen above, Leithauser believes their should be several different interpretations in the novella and initially believes having an exact answer is leading them to false conclusions.

After reading such criticism, I still tend to lean more towards the Freudian school of criticism. However, the most straightforward piece of criticism was Ever Scarier: On “The Turn of the Screw”. It did an excellent job of justifying why he believes the things he does, and frequently gives a solid argument. The Freudian argument seems to be the most logical and consistent, given the evidence in the novella and how it is interpreted through the detail of the wording. After reading the modern language notes of the Freudian reading of The Turn of the Screw, I have learned that the different perspectives of one novella depends on the individual’s perception of the peace and their knowledge going into their review.

Works Cited

  • Heilman, Robert B. ‘The Freudian Reading of The Turn of the Screw.’ Modern Language Notes Nov. 1947: 433-45.
  • Leithauser, Brad. “Ever Scarier: On ‘The Turn of the Screw.’” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017,

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Corruption of the Innocent in The Turn of the Screw. (2021, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Corruption of the Innocent in The Turn of the Screw

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