The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 22 | Summary



After Mrs. Grose leaves the governess realizes she's alone in a crisis, "face to face with the elements." She acts calm, so she doesn't worry the servants.

Miles seems calm, too. He knows Flora left; he had breakfast with her and Mrs. Grose that morning, then went on a walk. The governess knows Miles has his freedom now and she can't make any demands on his time. She worries about how she'll bring up the ghosts without "a new plunge into the hideous obscure," but she's still determined to save Miles.

When she and Miles eat dinner together, Miles asks how sick Flora is. The governess says she is sick enough to leave Bly, but she'll be all right in a new environment. Miles asks why Flora wasn't sent away before if she was so ill. The governess says Flora left just in time, before she became too ill to travel, inwardly congratulating herself on her quick excuse. Miles, she thinks, is doing a grand job of keeping his secrets too.

They wait together for the staff to leave. Then Miles announces the two are alone.


James highlights the claustrophobia of Bly through the governess's metaphor of "a tighter place still than I had yet turned round in." The governess also returns to the metaphor of Bly as a wayward ship. In the first chapter she found herself "strangely at the helm" of the large house. Now she is "clutching the helm" to avoid "total wreck." She finds the house staff's oblivion more alienating than comforting, but she's still the captain of the ship.

Or is she? Her job is to care for the children. Now Flora is gone and Miles is taking care of himself. She sees his detachment as another symptom of his descent into evil. He's still an intelligent boy, and she counts on his intellect to help him realize what she's long known: he will be lost forever unless he tells her the truth. She expects him to be an adult and take responsibility along with freedom.

Yet she's lying to him as well. She doesn't tell him the real reason for Flora's departure when he asks. Her words are vague enough not to tell a direct lie, but she deliberately leaves out her own role in Flora's abrupt change of mood. Since the governess positions herself in the role of a virtuous protector of the good, this lie may seem strange.

She's feeling closer to Miles, even comparing the two of them to an awkward young couple on their wedding night. James pushes these two characters to the forefront, emphasizing their silence and setting the stage for the final "turn of the screw" in the narrative.

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