The Turn of the Screw


Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Flora, Mrs. Grose, and Miles return home from church, and the governess is surprised to see that no one mentions that she did not join them at mass. The governess believes that the children are deliberately remaining silent to taunt her, and she thinks that they have “bribed” Mrs. Grose to remain silent, too. The governess breaks the silence with Mrs. Grose by having a private conversation with her in the housekeeper’s room. Mrs. Grose admits that the children had indeed told her not to say anything to the governess about her absence. They had believed that the governess would have liked it better that way, though the governess clearly did not—and she is unsure why the children would have thought that.
Mrs. Grose’s willingness to go along with what the children wanted—to keep silent regarding the governess’s absence when they return—indicates that Mrs. Grose’s allegiance to the governess may not be as strong as the governess assumes.
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The governess then tells Mrs. Grose about her meeting with Miss Jessel. The governess tells Mrs. Grose it is clear that Miss Jessel is tormented, and that to relieve her torment she wants Flora for herself. The governess then says that she has decided to contact the children’s uncle, and Mrs. Grose agrees that it would be a good idea.
The governess’s sense of the threatening presence of the ghosts here has grown significantly stronger. Her willingness to contact the uncle shows that she now senses the situation may get out of hand.
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The governess says that she is concerned, though, that their uncle will hold it against her not having dealt with Miles’s expulsion from school, which they each admit is still a mystery—indeed, neither can hold it against Miles, and they blame his expulsion alternatively on his uncle, Quint, Miss Jessel, and Mrs. Grose herself (for allowing the children to go on meeting with Quint and Miss Jessel). In the end, though, the governess agrees to contact the children’s uncle.
This moment in which Mrs. Grose and the governess entertain possible reasons for Miles’s misbehavior at school shows that their unwillingness to confront him honestly—an unwillingness driven by their insistence on his innocence (which the governess actually doubts)—shows that by refusing to treat him as anything but an innocent child they delay any actual treatment of possible behavioral problems.
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