The Turn of the Screw

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Windows Symbol Icon
Windows in The Turn of the Screw are in two instances the invisible boundary separating the governess from the ghost of Peter Quint. It is no coincidence that these encounters happen at windows. The story is, at least in part, about boundaries that—like windows—at once divide and connect people to each other. This is especially true of the governess’s relationship with the children. The governess often discusses her feeling that the children deliberately withhold their inner feelings and personal histories from her, so their reticence prevents her ability to access the children. But she clearly believes that her encounters with the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel, and the awareness she develops of the children’s relationship with the two, give her what she considers to be privileged access to the children’s histories and feelings. Nobody else ever confesses to seeing the ghosts, and the conclusions the governess draws about the children’s relationships with them remain unverified, so these encounters with the ghosts function like windows, or like boundaries that at once connect the governess to, and divide the governess from, the children.

Windows Quotes in The Turn of the Screw

The The Turn of the Screw quotes below all refer to the symbol of Windows. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Supernatural Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of The Turn of the Screw published in 2007.
Chapter 4 Quotes

There were shrubberies and big trees, but I remember the clear assurance I felt that none of them concealed him. He was there or was not there: not there if I didn't see him.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Peter Quint
Related Symbols: Windows
Page Number: 309
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess has seen the ghost of Peter Quint again, this time through a window. She goes outside to find him and cannot see him, though insists that this is not because he is hidden by the trees but because he has actually vanished. This passage shows that the governess is quick to dismiss a plausible explanation (that the man she saw is now simply hidden by other objects in her sightline), and instead jumps to the conclusion that, because she can't see him, he has disappeared. 

Depending on the reader's interpretation of the story, the governess may seem suspiciously quick to trust her own perceptions, perhaps suggesting that she has a loose grip on reality. The statement "He was there or was not there: not there if I didn't see him" indicates the governess' certainty that the man is appearing to her in particular, thereby centering her own role in the narrative as more than a mere witness. 

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Chapter 10 Quotes

You were looking for me out of the window?" I said. "You thought I might be walking in the grounds?"
"Well, you know, I thought someone was"—she never blanched as she smiled out that at me.
Oh, how I looked at her now! "And did you see anyone?"
"Ah, NO!" she returned, almost with the full privilege of childish inconsequence, resentfully, though with a long sweetness in her little drawl of the negative.
At that moment, in the state of my nerves, I absolutely believed she lied…

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Flora (speaker)
Related Symbols: Windows
Page Number: 336
Explanation and Analysis:

During the night the governess has caught Flora hiding behind the window blind, and when asked what she was doing there, Flora responded that she was looking for the governess through the window. The governess, suspicious, asks if Flora saw anyone, and Flora responds in a sweet yet resentful "drawl," "Ah, NO!", leading the governess to believe she is lying. This is the first moment when the governess truly suspects either of the children of being anything less than purely innocent and honest (although at this point she still maintains a favorable view of Miles, eerily echoing Peter Quint's favoritism of the boy over Flora).

Note the difficulty in determining the tone of what Flora is saying here. The words she uses––"Ah, NO!"––are simple, and could be said in any number of ways. The governess at once describes her expression as privileged, "negative," and resentful––all suggesting that she is speaking with a kind of sneer, and is perhaps lying––while at the same time using the words "childish inconsequence," "sweetness," and a "little drawl," which suggest innocence. The ambiguity here makes it impossible to know for sure if Flora is lying, and also indicates that the binary between innocence and dishonesty is perhaps not as simple as we might presume. 

Chapter 23 Quotes

This inference grew in a few minutes to sharp intensity and seemed bound up with the direct perception that it was positively he who was. The frames and squares of the great window were a kind of image, for him, of a kind of failure. I felt that I saw him, at any rate, shut in or shut out. He was admirable, but not comfortable: I took it in with a throb of hope. Wasn't he looking, through the haunted pane, for something he couldn't see?

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles
Related Symbols: Windows
Page Number: 387
Explanation and Analysis:

Miles and the governess are now alone at Bly, and the governess has watched Miles stare out the window as if looking for something. She has a sudden revelation that Miles has not actually seen the ghosts this whole time (though he has perhaps sensed their existence). This comes as a relief, as she realizes that Miles has not been corrupted by the ghosts as she had feared. Once again, she seems him as innocent, a perception that alleviates much of her distress. 

The language used in this passage is complex and contradictory, typical of James's enigmatic prose style. The governess sees Miles as "shut in or shut out," an observation that emphasizes the theme of exterior vs. interior and conveys the importance of the novel's idea of belonging. She imagines that Miles is "looking, through the haunted pane, for something he couldn't see," an assumption that, once again, she derives not from evidence but merely through intuition. It is thus typically difficult to assess the governess's reliability here. Is the window pane really haunted? Is Miles really searching for something, or is he simply looking out the window and daydreaming? It seems plausible that the governess is projecting her own thoughts and feelings onto Miles; regardless of whether the ghosts are real, her strong desire to see him as innocent is clearly inextricable from her own wish to feel responsible and noble as his protector.

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Windows Symbol Timeline in The Turn of the Screw

The timeline below shows where the symbol Windows appears in The Turn of the Screw. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...While in the room where she went to retrieve her gloves, she sees through the window the man, staring “deep and hard” into her eyes. She runs outside to see if... (full context)
Chapter 10
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...when she rushes to her bed to search for her, Flora emerges from behind the window’s blind. The governess, now upset, asks why she had hidden there. Flora replies that she... (full context)
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...had been blown out. She notices that Flora left her bed to look out the window again, and she assumes the girl blew out the light. The governess says she now... (full context)
Chapter 23
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...had once seen Quint, the governess sits on the couch, and Miles stares out the window. The governess has a revelation: she claims that Miles is looking longingly out the window... (full context)
Chapter 24
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...the letter she’d meant to have sent to his uncle, she notices through the room’s window the face of Quint, staring threateningly into the room. The governess reacts to this with... (full context)