The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

For a month the governess continues to feel uneasy. She senses Miles and Flora know the reason for her discomfort. The atmosphere is tense, and the "unnamed and untouched" conflict becomes such a potent force every topic in the schoolroom seems to lead back to the haunting of Bly. The governess feels Miles and Flora are waiting for her to bring up Miss Jessel but don't think she'll be brave enough to do it.

Meanwhile the children appear outwardly charming, asking the governess to tell them stories about her home and family. Eventually the governess relaxes a little. She hasn't seen any ghosts in a month. She worries, however, she may have lost her "power" to see them and be more vulnerable as a result. Miles and Flora, she feels, are seeing even more horrible visions than she has, and they have the good sense to keep silent.

The children occasionally ask about their uncle. He never writes to them, and their letters to him are never delivered. The governess prefers the uncle communicate exclusively with her; it's a sign of his trust.

When the tension breaks, the governess feels relief, even though what's to come is worse.

Analysis

James begins the second half of the novella with a long period of stasis—the characters wait, without experiencing much action, for the rest of the summer. James focuses on the mood at Bly and the psychological mystery the ghosts have invited. Just because the governess isn't seeing the ghosts doesn't mean they are gone.

No one can pretend they're in an idyllic, normal classroom now. Miles and Flora keep the governess occupied with their "delightful endless appetite" for stories about her home and family. Telling these stories is the only time the governess finds relief, and perhaps control.

But she knows the story isn't over. Darkness is coming again; the autumn "had dropped upon Bly and had blown out half our lights" like Flora blowing out the candle. The landscape at Bly is physically bleak. Autumn is also traditionally the time when children go back to school, and the unspoken question of Miles's expulsion looms larger.

The governess feels innocent and she wants to be propelled into knowledge at any cost. When she tells Mrs. Grose she fears losing her power (to see the ghosts) more than keeping it, she's asserting her own desire to grow up—to face reality. The children see and know more than she does, and this reversal of fortune makes her devastated. If she can't protect them, she can't do her job.

So she asserts her own control over the children by keeping them from communicating with their uncle. She has an end game: to win his heart by running the house perfectly. The children respond by referencing the uncle so frequently he feels present, like another ghost.

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