The Turn of the Screw By Henry James Summary and Analysis Sections 16-17

Summary

When the others return from church, they make no mention of the governess' absence. At teatime, the governess questions Mrs. Grose and discovers it was little Miles' idea that nothing be said. The governess tells how she returned to meet "a friend" (Miss Jessel) and to talk with her. She informs Mrs. Grose that Miss Jessel "suffers the torments . . . of the lost. Of the damned." The governess claims that her predecessor confessed this and also stated that she wants little Flora to share the torments with her.

After this discovery, the governess decides that she must write to the uncle and insist he come down and assume responsibility for the entire predicament. In addition, she now concludes that little Miles must have been expelled from his school for wickedness.

That night, the governess begins the letter to her employer. Leaving her room for a moment, she walks to little Miles' door. Even though it is late in the night, he calls for her to come in. She discovers that he is lying awake worrying about "this queer business" of theirs. The governess thinks he means the business about the ghosts, but little Miles quickly adds that he means this business about how he is being brought up. He emphasizes again his desire to return to a normal school, and the governess tells him that she has already written his uncle. She then implores him to let her help him. In answer to her plea, there comes a big gush of wind through the window. Little Miles shrieks and when the governess recovers her composure, she notices that the candle is out. Little Miles confesses that he blew it out.

Analysis

By teatime, the governess is able to approach Mrs. Grose and tell her that "it's now all out" between her and Miles. She then describes her meeting with Miss Jessel. It is important here to note the discrepancies between the presentation of the meeting in the last chapter and governess' narration of it to Mrs. Grose. In the actual meeting, the apparition disappeared immediately after the governess spoke to it. But in her explanation to Mrs. Grose, the governess maintains Miss Jessel said she suffers torments and that she has come back to get little Flora to share in her suffering.

This divergence could be a clue to the interpretation of the novel. The governess could be seen as the exceptionally intuitive and perceptive person who can fathom the meaning of any situation by her sensitive awareness. Or else, she is deliberately creating a situation that will allow her to write her employer. It could be argued that she has slowly been developing her case and slowly convincing Mrs. Grose so that when the employer arrives, Mrs. Grose will be able to confirm the fantastic story.

Furthermore, the governess finally convinces Mrs. Grose that Miles must have been expelled for wickedness, since he has no other flaw or fault that could warrant expulsion. Thus, we can see now the governess' motivation in not investigating the real reasons for Miles' dismissal. She is now able to use it for her own machinations.

If the governess is absorbed with her bizarre plot, it becomes even more natural and remarkable that little Miles should want to leave. He must feel — as he does emphasize — the strangeness of his position with the governess. After the interview in his room, he becomes even more sensitive and taut over their peculiar relationship. We should be aware that James is now building for little Miles' death at the end of the story, a death that will result from the governess' weird behavior.

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