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MonkeyNotes-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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Chapter 24

Summary

Face to face with the governess, Miles confesses his crime. He has stolen the letter from the table, read it and burnt it too. He had wanted to know what she had written about him. Miles thus satisfies her with his answer, but she does not let him go as promised earlier. She probes him further. She asks him whether he has also stolen things in school had got punished for it. Miles denies her accusation but confesses that, he has behaved badly with some boys and they might have spread the word to the teachers. As he bares his heart to the governess, she notices the figure of Peter Quint at the window. She is startled but hides her reaction from Miles. She also prevents the boy from seeing the apparition by holding him in a warm embrace and keeping his back to the window. To the relief of the governess, the figure disappears after a while. They continue talking and once again the figure appears at the window. Now the governess panics, and in her excitement, she curses the figure. Miles is now alert and asks her whether she has seen the ghost of Jessel. In reply, she points towards the window. Miles is not able to see anything, but he guesses the apparition to be that of Peter Quint. He calls him a devil, then lets out a shriek and falls down.


Notes

The climactic scene is thrilling and exciting, but it is shrouded in mystery. Unlike some other novelists, James does not solve the mystery at the end of the book. He leaves many questions unanswered and this puzzles the readers. It is possible that James wanted his readers to think and draw their own conclusions.

The final scene of the novel is steeped in irony. As Miles confesses his crime, the figure of Peter Quint appears, as if to taunt the governess and the boy. When Miles surrenders to the governess and accepts her warm embrace, the figure disappears. The governess heaves a sigh of relief and congratulates herself on her victory. However, the figure appears again and this time she is gripped with fear and loses control over herself. She voices aloud, her protest to the ghost. Miles suspects an intruder and asks whether it is Miss. Jessel. When the governess does not give a positive reply but points towards the window, Miles guesses that it is Peter Quint, though he does not see the apparition. Then, calling him a devil, he lets out a shriek and drops down dead. It is hard to believe that a boy, who had kept his balance of mind all these years and remained healthy, should succumb so easily to the name of a ghost.

The governess fails in her mission. Instead of protecting the children against the evil spirits, she lures them towards it and is partly responsible for their plight. All along, she is the one who talks about ghosts. She imagines that Flora had seen the ghost of Miss Jessel and taunts her about it. She puts evil ideas into the mind of the innocent child and creates fear in her heart. Through her attitude, she antagonizes Flora and drives her away from her. In the case of Miles, she is prejudiced against the boy from the beginning. After reading the note of his dismissal from the headmaster of the school, she starts doubting the character of Miles.

Thus, whenever she has visions of the ghosts of Quint and Jessel, she surmises that Flora and Miles must have seen them. She forces Miles to confess his association with the ghosts by reading meanings into his words and actions. And finally she names the ghost, at the same time pointing her hand towards the window, and scares him to death. It is likely that she has hallucinations and she imagines that the children are also experiencing it.

The last chapter hides more than reveals. The confession of Miles does not explain anything. Why had he burnt the letter instead of keeping it back? Again, what did he say that was objectionable to his friends? And finally, why did the name of Quint frighten Miles in such a manner that he loses his life? Did the ghosts really exist and did they communicate with the children? All these questions remain unanswered. The novel thus closes with a question mark instead of a full stop.

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