Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Turn of the Screw Study Guide." Course Hero. 9 Feb. 2017. Web. 12 Dec. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, February 9). The Turn of the Screw Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 12, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "The Turn of the Screw Study Guide." February 9, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2018.


Course Hero, "The Turn of the Screw Study Guide," February 9, 2017, accessed December 12, 2018,

The Turn of the Screw | Symbols



When lights are on—when the sun is out or the candle is lit—the governess can see her situation with a fresh perspective and make decisions. She's unable to do so in the dark. In her third viewing of Peter Quint in Chapter 9, she senses Quint's presence as the candle goes out. Twice the children blow out candles to confuse the governess. She even confesses to Miles "how much [she's] in the dark" in Chapter 17 when he won't tell her why he was expelled.

Light represents truth and information. Darkness represents the unknown and the occult. The governess is anxious about what she'll see in the light, but more fearful of what she doesn't see in the dark.


Many ghost sightings occur through Bly's windows. The governess sees Peter Quint twice through a window, once when she is inside and once outside of the house. Miles looks through windows several times, intently focused on what the governess thinks appears to be a ghost. A sighting of Peter Quint through a window is also a catalyst for Miles's death.

Windows make the events they observe seem far away. Miles and the governess are reduced to spectators rather than participants when they look through windows. In Chapter 23 the governess notices Miles trying and failing to see the truth through a window—he's trapped, just as she is. The windows symbolize characters being shut in or shut out: observing events unfold but being unable to change them. They add to the claustrophobic aura of the house and the novella as a whole, preventing the characters from escape.

Written Words

Letters and written words indicate hidden information and failed attempts to communicate. They also reveal the characters' attempts to write their own reality and tell their own story.

The governess has power in writing the story down. Douglas renders out loud "the beauty of his author's hand." She sees Peter Quint "as I see the letters I form on this page." The young, idealistic governess thinks of herself as a character in a fairy tale, and sees her own heroism before it happens. Her written words filter events for the reader.

Some words written by characters are never revealed to the reader. Yet these words also carry great impact in the story. The expulsion letter from Miles's school is sealed. The exact contents of the letter the governess writes to the children's uncle, toward the end of the story, are never made clear. The person in possession of the letters, as well as the writer, has authority and agency. The governess wants to keep her authority by writing to the uncle herself rather than having Mrs. Grose dictate a letter; later Miles steals the unsent letter to keep his own authority in the house. He can prevent the governess from telling her story to the uncle and rewrite the narrative he wishes to see.


Hats represent civilized clothing and a sane state of mind. A character without a hat is usually in danger, or presents a danger to others.

The governess determines Peter Quint's flawed character from his lack of a hat. She notices Miss Jessel's consistent lack of a hat too. Later she runs outdoors herself without a hat to find Flora on a cold autumn day. She and Flora, both physically unprotected from the weather, will also be psychologically vulnerable.

In Chapter 23 Miles twirls his hat in an innocent-seeming gesture. The action intimidates the governess and gives her "a perverse horror of what I was doing," making her less inclined to compel the truth from Miles. The hat reminds her of Miles's own civility and vulnerability.

Documents for Symbols

View all

Questions for Symbols

View all
The tragedy is that you have to twist the knife in your own gray matter to make this defense work. You'll have to shut down, have to reject intellectual stimuli or diffuse them with sarcasm, have to c
Question 1 The reason many students fail exams is because they do not study. incomplete comparison lack of parallelism faulty predication dangling modifier 1 points Question 2 Scuba diving is where yo
Upload Assignment: Writing Assignment #3 – 2016FA/ENG-... Public Service Announcement: create a :30 PSA for an organization or event from the list below. You need to mention the aspect of the organiza
Under what doctrine or principle could you resell your new CD or DVD, but not if you first copied it to your laptop?
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Turn of the Screw? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!