The Turn of the Screw By Henry James Summary and Analysis Sections 18-20

Summary

The next day, the governess tells Mrs. Grose that the letter to the master is written, but she fails to mention that she has not yet mailed it. That day, Miles is exceptionally kind to the governess. He even volunteers to play the piano for her. Suddenly the governess asks where Flora is. Little Miles does not know, so she assumes that Flora is with Mrs. Grose. To her consternation, she discovers that the good housekeeper has not seen Flora.

Then, the governess understands that Flora is with that woman. Also, little Miles is probably with Quint; and all the time he was being nice to the governess, he was simply covering up so that Flora could escape. Together with Mrs. Grose, the young woman goes straight to the lake in search of little Flora. The governess is convinced that the children are in communication with that awful pair and, moreover, "they say things, that, if we heard them, would simply appall us."

On arriving at the lake, they discover that Flora has apparently taken the boat and gone to the other side. Mrs. Grose is dumbfounded that such a small girl could manage a boat alone, but the governess reminds her that Flora is not alone — that woman is with her.

They walk around the lake and find Flora, who meets them with her sweet gaiety. When the child asks where Miles is, the governess in turn asks little Flora, "Where is Miss Jessel?" Immediately upon hearing this question, Mrs. Grose utters a loud sound, which causes the governess to look up and see the figure of Miss Jessel standing on the other side of the lake. She points out this figure for both Mrs. Grose and little Flora, but the young pupil keeps her eyes glued on the governess. Mrs. Grose is unable to see anything in spite of the governess' explicit directions. After a few moments, Mrs. Grose addresses little Flora and tells her then there is no one there. "It's all a mere mistake and a worry and a joke." She wants to take little Flora home as fast as possible.

Suddenly, the young girl cries out that she did not see anyone and never has. She wants to be taken away from the governess, who has been so cruel and frightening. Mrs. Grose takes the child and returns to the house. The governess is left alone to realize that the apparition appears only to the children and to herself. This will make it more difficult for her now. When she returns to the house, she finds that little Flora's things have been removed from the room.

Analysis

Here we have the revealing chapters concerning the appearance of the ghosts. Previously, the ghosts have appeared only when the governess is alone, but now Miss Jessel appears while Mrs. Grose is present. But the good housekeeper is unable to see the apparition. Consequently, the reader may now doubt seriously that the visitation has any existence except in the mind of the governess. The question arises as to whether she actually sees them. We know that the mind can convince itself that such things happen.

Another approach is to accept the governess' view that one must possess a certain amount of perception before one can discover the presence of the evil ghosts. But if we accept this view, we must also see the children as possessed of superhuman cunning and ingenuity. And note that little Flora seems distraught by the accusations made by the governess.

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