The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Mrs. Grose is concerned; the governess looks "white as a sheet." The governess explains she's been seeing "an extraordinary man" around the house, not a gentleman or a neighbor but a "horror." The governess describes the man in detail. He has red hair, whiskers, sharp eyes, and a wide mouth. She thinks he resembles an actor. She says the man's well dressed, but the clothes are clearly not his own.

Mrs. Grose identifies the man as Peter Quint, who she thinks must be wearing the clothes of the children's uncle. Peter Quint was the uncle's valet (personal attendant) the year before. The previous year, after the uncle left on business, Quint remained in the house. Then he died.

Analysis

The governess begins to see Mrs. Grose may know more about the ghost sightings than she lets on. The housekeeper is gullible, and at this point defers to the governess on nearly every decision. The governess's question "How did he get out?" shows Peter Quint has free rein of the house—he can come and go. The living residents are stuck. She will later notice Miles at the window as "shut in or shut out." Windows, intended to give house residents a clear view of the outside world, work in The Turn of the Screw to trap and cause claustrophobia.

The first detail the governess gives about Peter Quint is his lack of a hat. Clothing gives clues about the wearer's social standing, and in this case about personal character. Gentlemen, during this time period, wear hats as a sign of respect and good breeding. Miles will twirl his hat in a later chapter as either a gesture of freedom or, possibly, a gesture of intimidation toward the governess.

The governess senses herself painting a picture, adding "stroke to stroke" for Mrs. Grose and either describing or inventing an apparition. Their conversation about Peter Quint, in which Mrs. Grose recognizes the man from his description, could be read two different ways. The governess may truly see a ghost, since she knows identifying details she wouldn't know otherwise. Or she may have heard a description of Peter Quint, who was a notorious figure at Bly, and used the details to convince Mrs. Grose she's telling the truth.

When James first published The Turn of the Screw in monthly installments, he ended the fourth installment here—revealing new, tension-building information in the last few lines, making the readers wait to find out what happens next. Many chapters end in a similar way.

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