The Turn of the Screw

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Youth and Innocence Theme Analysis

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The Turn of the Screw explores and complicates the relationship between youth and innocence. Youth and innocence are difficult to pin down in the book: the children seem precocious and (in the governess’s words) wicked, but at the same time they are presented as innocent and honest victims of a difficult situation. Henry James was known to have had an interest in the inner lives of children, as both precocious and mature members of the world, and as innocent victims of that same world. He is sometimes said to have spoken for the children of the upper-class in the same way Charles Dickens spoke for the children of the lower class. Miles and Flora are orphans who were more or less abandoned by their assigned caregiver, their uncle. They are thus forced to develop their own sense of family, one consisting of moving parts, such as new governesses, and frustrated head-masters. When the governess requests that Flora be taken away from Bly, and when later Miles’s heart stops in the final scene, we see how sharply Henry James has drawn the children as innocent victims of adult concerns.

At the same time, though, the children’s victimhood—their difficult pasts with Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, their abandonment by almost all adults in their lives—grants them a kind of seriousness and maturity not typically associated with innocently youthful children. This can be read as part of what is so frustrating for the governess about the children she’s taking care of. Flora and Miles both have about them a kind of maturity and worldliness that the governess lacks. She cannot access them because she is unable to see them for what they are: not innocent, but experienced.

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Youth and Innocence ThemeTracker

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Youth and Innocence Quotes in The Turn of the Screw

Below you will find the important quotes in The Turn of the Screw related to the theme of Youth and Innocence.
Preface Quotes

"I quite agree—in regard to Griffin's ghost, or whatever it was—that its appearing first to the little boy, at so tender an age, adds a particular touch. But it's not the first occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have involved a child. If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to TWO children—?"

Related Characters: Douglas (speaker)
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

At a Christmas Eve party in London, the partygoers have been sharing ghost stories, one of which has featured a ghost haunting a child. Douglas, one of the partygoers, attempts to trump this story, bragging that he knows of a ghost story that features not just one but two children. The fact that the novel's main narrative is embedded within this scene highlights the importance of the theme of storytelling. James explores the idea that we tell stories to impress others, and Douglas' dramatic phrase "what do you say to TWO children––?" indicates that he is competing to tell the most disturbing tale. 

This passage is important as it is one of two places where the novel's title is mentioned, and thus provides insight into the function of the phrase "The Turn of the Screw" within the narrative. Douglas says that the appearance of a ghost to an innocent child "adds a particular touch," meaning that the juxtaposition between the horror of the ghost and the child's innocence makes for a good story. Douglas uses the phrase "the turn of the screw" to imply a level of creepiness within the story; however, this phrase also gives a sense of something being closed or sealed. This may foreshadow the governess' feeling that she is trapped at Bly. 


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Chapter 1 Quotes

The little girl who accompanied Mrs. Grose appeared to me on the spot a creature so charming as to make it a great fortune to have to do with her. She was the most beautiful child I had ever seen…

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose, Flora
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

On the way to Bly the governess had been feeling nervous about her new position, but as soon as she arrives her anxieties are soothed by the beauty of the house and of Flora. In this passage she describes Flora as "the most beautiful child" she has ever seen, adding that anyone who knows her is lucky. This observation reveals the governess' initial belief that outward beauty corresponds to internal innocence; however, the coming events will come to challenge this view. The fact that she describes Flora not just as beautiful but as the most beautiful child she has ever seen adds to the sense that there might be something unnatural (or indeed supernatural!) about Flora's charm. 

Chapter 2 Quotes

"I take what you said to me at noon as a declaration that you’ve never known him to be bad."
She threw back her head; she had clearly, by this time, and very honestly, adopted an attitude. "Oh, never known him—I don't pretend that!"
I was upset again. "Then you have known him—?"
"Yes indeed, miss, thank God!"
On reflection I accepted this. "You mean that a boy who never is—?"
"Is no boy for me!"
I held her tighter. "You like them with the spirit to be naughty?" Then, keeping pace with her answer, "So do I!" I eagerly brought out. "But not to the degree to contaminate—"
"To contaminate?"—my big word left her at a loss. I explained it. "To corrupt."
She stared, taking my meaning in; but it produced in her an odd laugh. "Are you afraid he'll corrupt you?"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

Having read the news that Miles is being expelled from school, the governess asked Mrs. Grose if Miles was badly behaved, and Mrs. Grose replied that he wasn't. Here, however, Mrs. Grose slightly contradicts herself, saying it's not the case that Miles was never bad, but that she wouldn't like a boy who was perfectly behaved all the time anyway. The governess agrees, but nervously adds that a child shouldn't be so bad that he "corrupts" others, to which Mrs. Grose laughs and asks her if she is worried that Miles will corrupt her. 

This passage is significant as it establishes a key tension between innocence and corruption, and specifically foreshadows the governess's anxiety about whether Miles is truly innocent or whether, beneath his veneer of purity, he has been "corrupted" by Quint. Although the governess claims to like it when children have "the spirit to be naughty," her obsession with innocence suggests otherwise. Mrs. Grose's question of whether the governess is worried that Miles will corrupt her hints at an interpretation of the novel wherein the governess is the innocent one, and Miles and Flora are the corrupting forces. This would represent an eerie challenge to the presumed association between children and innocence.

Finally, the fact that Mrs. Grose at first said that Miles was perfectly behaved and then contradicts herself hints that she is perhaps not as trustworthy she might initially seem. This, combined with the many unfinished sentences and murky pauses of the dialogue, creates suspense and adds to the ambiguity of which characters in the novel are telling the truth or misunderstanding one another.

Chapter 3 Quotes

It would have been impossible to carry a bad name with a greater sweetness of innocence, and by the time I had got back to Bly with him I remained merely bewildered—so far, that is, as I was not outraged—by the sense of the horrible letter locked up in my room, in a drawer. As soon as I could compass a private word with Mrs. Grose I declared to her that it was grotesque.
She promptly understood me. "You mean the cruel charge—?"
"It doesn't live an instant. My dear woman, LOOK at him!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles
Page Number: 299
Explanation and Analysis:

Having met Miles for the first time, the governess is as smitten with his beauty and seeming innocence as she was with Flora, and is "bewildered" as to why he has been expelled from school. She confides this to Mrs. Grose, justifying her disbelief by saying "LOOK at him!". Once again, the governess reveals her complete faith in the idea that an outward appearance of beauty can be taken as proof that a person is innocent.

The fact that the governess received the letter before meeting Miles also means that the contents of the letter are a constant influence on how she views him—either making her wary and distrustful of Miles, or else indignant on his behalf.

Chapter 6 Quotes

"He was looking for someone else, you say—someone who was not you?"
"He was looking for little Miles." A portentous clearness now possessed me. "That’s whom he was looking for."
"But how do you know?"
"I know, I know, I know!" My exaltation grew. "And you know, my dear!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Peter Quint
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess has vowed to Mrs. Grose that she will approach her task of protecting the children with renewed vigour, and goes on to say that this is because she knows that the ghost of Peter Quint was "looking for" Miles. This moment certainly adds a disturbing element to the story, though––as this passage shows––it is not quite clear how the governess knows Quint is targeting Miles. As in many parts of the novel, she seems to be relying on a strong yet inexplicable sense of intuition.

This is significant, as it would have been unusual at the time for two women to be effectively running a household with no male supervision. Much of the governess and Mrs. Grose's distress can be read as anxiety over whether to trust their own instincts; this is reflected in the fact that the governess is constantly longing for the authoritative intervention of Miles and Flora's uncle. At the same time, this exchange reveals that the governess does strongly believe that both she and Mrs. Grose know that the "innocent" Miles is in danger, emphasized by her exclamations "I know, I know, I know! ... And you know, my dear!" 

"Oh, it wasn't him!" Mrs. Grose with emphasis declared. "It was Quint's own fancy. To play with him, I mean—to spoil him." She paused a moment; then she added: "Quint was much too free."
This gave me, straight from my vision of his face—such a face!—a sudden sickness of disgust. "Too free with my boy?"
"Too free with everyone!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Peter Quint
Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:

In response to the governess' suspicions that Quint's ghost is "looking for" Miles, Mrs. Grose confesses that, when he was alive, Quint was especially fond of Miles and liked "to spoil him." She then goes on to say that he was "much too free," a comment that horrifies the governess.

It is important to note that the use of euphemistic expression here leaves the true meaning of Mrs. Grose's words ambiguous. During the Victorian era, sexuality was often referred to with this kind of indirect language; at the same time, due to the strict social codes of the era, "much too free" could mean any number of transgressions. The governess's horror at the thought that Quint was "too free" with Miles suggests that she interprets Mrs. Grose as saying that Quint sexually molested Miles. However, Mrs. Grose's reply that Quint was too free with everyone again throws this interpretation into doubt, all while also hinting at the later revelation that Quint and Miss Jessel had a sexual relationship of their own. 

Suddenly, in these circumstances, I became aware that, on the other side of the Sea of Azof, we had an interested spectator…My heart had stood still for an instant with the wonder and terror of the question whether she too would see; and I held my breath while I waited for what a cry from her, what some sudden innocent sign either of interest or of alarm, would tell me. I waited, but nothing came…

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Flora, Miss Jessel
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess is outside by the lake with Flora, and she suddenly sees another person in the distance. This person is different from the ghost of Peter Quint, though it has appeared at a distance and is watching the governess and Flora in the exact same manner as Quint. Although the governess is terrified, it seems that Flora hasn't noticed the person; the governess waits for Flora's reaction, but Flora continues to act as if nothing is there. 

This passage represents another example of the difficulty of assessing whether the ghosts are products of the governess' imagination or not. On the on hand, the fact that only the governess can see the ghosts seems to clearly indicate that they are all inside her head. At the same time, if the ghosts are real and have indeed "corrupted" Miles and Flora, it makes sense that Miles and Flora act as if they are not there. Once again, James ensures that evidence for one interpretation can just as easily be taken as evidence in favor of the other. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

"They know—it's too monstrous: they know, they know!"
"And what on earth—?" I felt her incredulity as she held me.
"Why, all that we know—and heaven knows what else besides!" Then, as she released me, I made it out to her, made it out perhaps only now with full coherency even to myself. "Two hours ago, in the garden"—I could scarce articulate—"Flora saw!"
Mrs. Grose took it as she might have taken a blow in the stomach. "She has told you?" she panted.
"Not a word—that's the horror. She kept it to herself!”

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Flora
Page Number: 320-321
Explanation and Analysis:

Having waited in vain for Flora to acknowledge the appearance of the ghost by the lake, the governess later tells Mrs. Grose what happened, emphasizing that she now believes that Miles and Flora do see the ghosts but pretend that nothing is there. Indeed, the governess suggests that Miles and Flora perhaps understand the situation far better than Mrs. Grose and she herself do (as indicated by the phrase "and heaven knows what else besides!"). The governess is horrified that Flora pretends not to see them, as this suggests that the ghosts have some kind of influence over the children. 

Once again, it is very difficult to know whether or not to trust the governess here. She insists that she knows Flora saw the ghost, but again, this knowledge seems to be purely intuitive and not based on any evidence (it actually contradicts the evidence, as Flora didn't seem to see the ghost). This passage also significantly disrupts assumptions about the binaries between innocence and corruption and between truth and secrecy. The governess's revelation shifts the presumption that the children are innocent, honest, and ignorant, while she and Mrs. Grose––as the adults and authority figures––possess disturbing knowledge that they must keep secret from the children. According to the governess's new beliefs, it is in fact the children who are keeping horrifying secrets from the adults, who remain innocently clueless about what is really going on. 

Chapter 8 Quotes

To gaze into the depths of blue of the child's eyes and pronounce their loveliness a trick of premature cunning was to be guilty of a cynicism in preference to which I naturally preferred to abjure my judgment and, so far as might be, my agitation. I couldn't abjure for merely wanting to, but I could repeat to Mrs. Grose—as I did there, over and over, in the small hours—that with their voices in the air, their pressure on one's heart, and their fragrant faces against one's cheek, everything fell to the ground but their incapacity and their beauty.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose, Miles, Flora
Page Number: 326
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess has been questioning Mrs. Grose about Miles' relationship with Quint, trying to figure out if Miles is really as innocent and honest as he appears; Mrs. Grose has responded by admitting that Miles has been secretive about his time with Quint. The governess, disturbed, resolves not to assume Miles is lying, and once again contemplates the children's beauty and charm as evidence that they must be innocent. 

This passage is typically ambiguous. On one level, it seems to suggest that the governess' obsession with the children's apparent innocence is naïve. She seems almost to fetishize their adorable looks, losing the ability to think rationally in the rapturous, sensual description of "their pressure on one's heart, and their fragrant faces against one's cheek." At the same time, it could be just as likely that Mrs. Grose is keeping secrets as opposed to Miles, and the governess's enduring commitment to protecting the children perhaps reveals her noble, loyal character. 

Finally, the phrase "their pressure on one's heart" disturbingly foreshadows the final scene in the story, when the governess describes Miles's death by saying that "his little heart... had stopped."

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 11 Quotes

He was gentleness itself, and while I wagged my head at him he stood there more than ever a little fairy prince. It was his brightness indeed that gave me a respite. Would it be so great if he were really going to tell me? "Well," he said at last, "just exactly in order that you should do this."
"Do what?"
"Think me—for a change—bad!" I shall never forget the sweetness and gaiety with which he brought out the word, nor how, on top of it, he bent forward and kissed me. It was practically the end of everything.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles (speaker)
Page Number: 342
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess has questioned Miles about why he was outside, and he sweetly admits it was because he wanted her to think he was bad. He then kisses her, and she feels overwhelmed with emotion. This exchange is another example of the highly complex and ambiguous psychological interplay between the governess and the children. On one level, Miles behaves adorably, and it is fairly plausible that he would view making the governess think he was bad as some kind of trick or game. The governess herself certainly seems inclined toward this interpretation, again revealing her infatuation with Miles's resemblance to "a little fairy prince." 

At the same time, if the reader believes that Miles and Flora are actually under the influence of the ghosts, then this passage can be read as an example of highly effective (and disturbing!) manipulation. Miles certainly seems to know exactly how to make the governess sympathize with him, and the governess's dramatic claim following his kiss ("It was practically the end of everything") may indicate the extent to which Miles is able to influence her emotional reactions. 

Chapter 12 Quotes

"Why, of the very things that have delighted, fascinated, and yet, at bottom, as I now so strangely see, mystified and troubled me. Their more than earthly beauty, their absolutely unnatural goodness. It's a game," I went on; "it's a policy and a fraud!"
"On the part of little darlings—?"
"As yet mere lovely babies? Yes, mad as that seems!" The very act of bringing it out really helped me to trace it—follow it all up and piece it all together. "They haven't been good—they've only been absent. It has been easy to live with them, because they're simply leading a life of their own. They're not mine—they're not ours. They're his and they're hers!"
"Quint's and that woman's?"
"Quint's and that woman's. They want to get to them."

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Flora, Peter Quint, Miss Jessel
Page Number: 344
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the governess confesses a major change of opinion to Mrs. Grose: she now believes that the children have been deliberately trying to seem innocent when in fact they have been corrupted by Quint and Miss Jessel. She says that this explains their extraordinary, "unnatural" sweetness and obedience, and she concludes that the children do not belong to the governess and Mrs. Grose, but to the two ghosts. This is a pivotal moment in the novel, the point when the governess's own innocence––manifested through her naïve insistence on the innocence of the children––suddenly falls away and she fully accepts her suspicion and paranoia. 

This passage also makes clear that it is impossible for the governess to imagine that the children are independent, autonomous beings. She says that she thought they were good because they were obedient, but in fact they have just been "absent.. leading a life of their own." She then goes on to tell Mrs. Grose that the children are "not ours. They're his and they're hers!" This shows not only that, when it comes to the children, the governess imagines goodness as being the same as obedience, but also that she believes the children must either belong to her or to someone else––they cannot simply exist as their own people.

Chapter 13 Quotes

What it was most impossible to get rid of was the cruel idea that, whatever I had seen, Miles and Flora saw more—things terrible and unguessable and that sprang from dreadful passages of intercourse in the past. Such things naturally left on the surface, for the time, a chill which we vociferously denied that we felt…

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles, Flora
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess has been tormented by her conviction that Miles and Flora know she has also seen the ghosts, and almost raises the issue with them several times before deciding against it. In this passage she reflects on how disturbing it is to know that Miles and Flora have been corrupted and have seen "terrible and unguessable" things that even she does not know about. However, she also admits that the three of them still continue to act as if everything is fine.

Her words reflect the theme of deception and of the tension between exterior innocence and the dark, disturbing secrets that lie beneath. The governess's statement that "whatever I have seen, Miles and Flora saw more" represents a reversal in the natural position of adults and children, a narrative device typically used in gothic ghost stories that leads to ominous consequences. 

Chapter 14 Quotes

I call it a revolution because I now see how, with the word he spoke, the curtain rose on the last act of my dreadful drama, and the catastrophe was precipitated. "Look here, my dear, you know," he charmingly said, "when in the world, please, am I going back to school?"
Transcribed here the speech sounds harmless enough, particularly as uttered in the sweet, high, casual pipe with which, at all interlocutors, but above all at his eternal governess, he threw off intonations as if he were tossing roses.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles (speaker)
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:

While walking to church, Miles asks the governess when he will be going back to school. The governess confesses to the reader that his words might seem innocent when written down, but that she knows they indicate the imminent arrival of "the last act of my dreadful drama." Once again, the true meaning of Miles's words, as well as the tone with which he delivers them, remain ambiguous. The governess describes his voice as "sweet, high, casual," and yet she is utterly convinced that his question signals that something terrible will happen. Her use of theatrical language ("the curtain rose on the last act of my dreadful drama") also conveys the governess' self-conscious awareness of the reader and of her own role as the storyteller. 

Chapter 17 Quotes

"Dear little Miles, dear little Miles, if you KNEW how I want to help you! It's only that, it's nothing but that, and I'd rather die than give you a pain or do you a wrong—I'd rather die than hurt a hair of you. Dear little Miles"—oh, I brought it out now even if I should go too far—"I just want you to help me to save you!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles
Page Number: 365
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess and Miles have been talking in his bedroom. During the course of their conversation, Miles has shown resistance to the way the governess has been taking care of him, saying that he wants to go back to school or at least to speak with his uncle. The governess grows increasingly hysterical, eventually falling to her knees and exclaiming that she just wants Miles to let her save him. She announces that she'd "rather die than hurt a hair of you," ironically foreshadowing the ending of the novel when she (arguably) squeezes him to death.

Indeed, this entire passage can be read as prefiguring the final scene of the novel, an ominous indication that the governess's relationship with Miles has become inappropriately intense and volatile. At the same time, if we interpret the ghosts as being real, then Miles's conflict with the governess symbolizes Quint's attempt to sever their relationship so that Quint can have Miles all to himself. Either way, the fact that neither Miles nor the governess discuss Quint openly clearly creates an unbearable level of tension between them, suggesting that repression and secrecy lead to chaotic and terrible consequences. 

Chapter 18 Quotes

“She's with her?"
"She's with her!" I declared. "We must find them."
My hand was on my friend's arm, but she failed for the moment, confronted with such an account of the matter, to respond to my pressure. She communed, on the contrary, on the spot, with her uneasiness. "And where's Master Miles?"
"Oh, he’s with Quint. They're in the schoolroom."
"Lord, miss!" My view, I was myself aware—and therefore I suppose my tone—had never yet reached so calm an assurance.
"The trick's played," I went on; "they’ve successfully worked their plan. He found the most divine little way to keep me quiet while she went off."
"'Divine'?" Mrs. Grose bewilderedly echoed.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Flora, Peter Quint, Miss Jessel
Page Number: 368
Explanation and Analysis:

Miles has been playing the piano for the governess, during which time Flora disappeared. The governess, having realized this, goes to Mrs. Grose and insists that they find Flora, who the governess is convinced is with Miss Jessel. When Mrs. Grose asks where Miles is, the governess tells her he must be with Quint and that the piano playing was a "trick" to distract her while Flora ran off with Miss Jessel. It is clear at this point that, like the children, Mrs. Grose is alarmed at the governess's behavior. Whether we interpret the ghosts as real or not, it is clear that the governess's belief in their influence over the children is leading her into a frenzy, which in turn isolates her from those around her.

Even at this crazed and climactic moment, the governess still seems fixated on the binary between innocence and corruption. She calls Miles's piano playing a "divine little way to keep me quiet." The use of the word "divine"––emphasized by Mrs. Grose's bewildered repetition––shows that the governess retains her obsession with the children's unearthly purity, even while she is accusing them of conspiring against her. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

"I don't know what you mean. I see nobody. I see nothing. I never have. I think you're cruel. I don't like you!" Then, after this deliverance, which might have been that of a vulgarly pert little girl in the street, she hugged Mrs. Grose more closely and buried in her skirts the dreadful little face. In this position she produced an almost furious wail. "Take me away, take me away—oh, take me away from her!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Flora (speaker), Mrs. Grose
Page Number: 375
Explanation and Analysis:

After Mrs. Grose has admitted that she does not see Miss Jessel, Flora agrees, saying she has "never" seen anyone or anything and accusing the governess of being cruel. She then demands that Mrs. Grose take her away. Flora's words alarm the governess, not only because they are so directly accusatory but because they also challenge the governess's presumptions about the binaries of innocence and evil.

Throughout the novel, the governess has been fixated on the idea that the children are innocent and pure, that Quint and Miss Jessel are evil, and that she––the governess––is the children's protector and is therefore good. However, this exchange majorly subverts these beliefs, suggesting that if Quint and Miss Jessel don't exist, then it is the governess herself who is having a cruel, corrupting effect on the children. Note that this subversion is also evident in the way the governess describes Flora here, no longer using words associated with magical innocence and beauty, but instead calling her "vulgarly pert" and "dreadful." The fact that the governess's opinion reverses so suddenly suggests that the appearance of innocence can be highly unstable and misleading. 

Chapter 22 Quotes

Here at present I felt afresh—for I had felt it again and again—how my equilibrium depended on the success of my rigid will, the will to shut my eyes as tight as possible to the truth that what I had to deal with was, revoltingly, against nature. I could only get on at all by taking "nature" into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker)
Page Number: 385
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Grose and Flora have now left Bly, and the governess is aware that the rest of the staff know about her outburst and her belief in the ghosts. She clearly feels rattled, and resolves that the only way to maintain her composure is to pretend as though she is not dealing with anything supernatural and that her ordeal is nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, if the ghosts are real then this is a fairly admirable (and no doubt necessary) course of action, and can be seen as an example of the governess's maturity and common sense.

On the other hand, the tactic of repressing what is really happening below an exterior of normalcy has clearly led to terrible consequences thus far. The governess's determination to "shut my eyes as tight as possible to the truth" sounds irresponsible and deluded, despite her belief that it is the rational course of action. It can also be taken as evidence that the ghosts really are all in her head, as she seems suspiciously convinced of her ability to impact reality using the power of her mind alone. 

Finally, note that the title of the novel is once again mentioned at the end of this passage. In this instance, "turn of the screw" refers to the need for the governess to "tighten up" her composure and behave sensibly.

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.

Chapter 24 Quotes

"It's he?"
I was so determined to have all my proof that I flashed into ice to challenge him. "Whom do you mean by 'he'?"
"Peter Quint—you devil!" His face gave again, round the room, its convulsed supplication. "Where?"
…"What does he matter now, my own?—what will he EVER matter? I have you," I launched at the beast, "but he has lost you forever!" Then, for the demonstration of my work, "There, there!" I said to Miles.
But he had already jerked straight round, stared, glared again, and seen but the quiet day. With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss…We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles (speaker), Peter Quint
Page Number: 395
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel's dramatic conclusion is a masterpiece of creepiness and ambiguity. Miles has confessed that he stole the letter the governess wrote to his uncle, and admits that he was expelled from school for "saying things." Meanwhile, the governess has seen Quint at the window. At first Miles seems confused by what she has seen, referring to it with female pronouns, but then he cries out "Peter Quint––you devil!" It is difficult to determine exactly what happens next, but the novel's conclusion is definite: Miles' heart has stopped, and he is dead.

One way to interpret the ending of the novel is as a final piece of evidence that the ghosts are real and that Quint did corrupt Miles. The fact that Miles shouts Quint's name and seems to expect to see him indicates that Miles believes he is there. It is possible that Miles' heart stops in fright, or because Quint kills him, or because he cannot survive the governess seizing him from Quint's possession (indeed, this is arguably conveyed by the use of the word "dispossessed"). 

Another interpretation reads Miles's fright as being directed at the governess and her frantic behavior. It is possible that Miles's cry "you devil!" is in fact directed at the governess. The governess's repetition of "the quiet day" perhaps suggests that there is indeed no one else there but the two of them. According to this interpretation, it is the governess herself who kills Miles––either by frightening him or by smothering him so tightly that he suffocates. Indeed, this would explain how she knows that his heart has stopped.