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MonkeyNotes-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTERS

The Governess

As the protagonist-narrator of the story, the governess dominates the novel with her presence. She not only narrates the story of her experience at Bly, but also portrays the characters and presents the situations as seen through her eyes. Thus, her depiction is subjective and her views are biased.

The readers are told very little about the physical appearance of the governess. Douglas mentions that she was an ‘agreeable’ woman and had accepted the job at Bly when she was twenty. He neither mentions her name nor describes her looks. He only refers to her as a simple girl with romantic notions in her head. Thus, when she meets her handsome employer ‘a gentleman, a bachelor in the prime of life,’ she regards him as the hero of her life. As the youngest daughter of a poor country parson in Hampshire, she had felt the need to seek employment and earn her living.

The governess is not only romantic but also adventurous. Of course, she had fallen for the charms of her employer and was tempted to take up the job to please him. However, no one but a person endowed with an adventurous spirit, would risk working in a remote place and accept the strange conditions imposed on her.

Like all young girls of her age, the governess is highly imaginative and idealistic. After she goes around the huge but old-fashioned country house, she visualizes herself as a godmother to the fairy, Flora living in a castle. She often dreams about her handsome employer and wishes that he would pay her a secret visit. After she gains the affection of the children and encounters the ghosts, she vows to protect the children against the spirits. She considers herself as a savior, guarding the children against evil.


The governess is a bundle of contradictory emotions. On the one hand, she is loving, caring and dedicated. However, after her experience with the ghosts and after becoming a target of the pranks of the children, she starts doubting the words, actions and the intentions of her two pupils. She therefore develops a prejudice against them. Even though she loves the children and cares for them, she is afraid that they possess evil qualities because of the influence of Quint and Jessel. Thus, instead of earning the trust of the children, she distances herself from them because of her negative attitude and her obsession with ghosts.

The governess is also opinionated and selfish. After she encounters the ghost of Jessel, she concludes that Flora too has seen the apparition, just because the girl was with her at the lake. Similarly, when she finds Flora missing from the house, she surmises that the girl had gone to meet Jessel. She also believes that Miles is in contact with the ghost of Quint. She even forces her views on Mrs. Grose. However, when Miles and the housekeeper ask her to call the master of the house to resolve the problems at home, she is hesitant to follow their advice, even though she knows that they are right. This is because she does not want to spoil her image in front of her sophisticated employer, who might then call her inefficient and irresponsible. Thus, in order to save her reputation and gain the confidence of her employer, she postpones writing the letter to him and in the process, fails to provide security to the children.

In the final analysis, the governess is a complex character. She possesses the angelic qualities of love, devotion and sincerity and at the same time, she is also corrupted by the devilish traits of suspicion, prejudice and self-interest. The beginning of the novel projects her positive qualities, while the latter part of the book exposes her negative traits. Thus, towards the end of the novel, she loses the affection of the children and drives them to desperation. Readers are more likely to curse her than sympathize with her plight.

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