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MonkeyNotes-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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PLOT (Structure)

The story of The Turn of the Screw is simple, as James had meant it to be a fairy tale, of a governess going to a remote country house to take care of two orphaned children. However, the plot turns complex, when James adds dramatic twists to the story in the form of the ghosts, which haunt the governess and the suspense, which follows.

The plot of the novel can be traced through the usual pattern of development. The novel begins with the governess at Bly getting familiar with the inmates of the house and the surroundings. She was apprehensive before coming to Bly but now she is very happy with her situation. Then a letter arrives from the headmaster of Miles’ school, informing about his dismissal from the institution. Therefore even before meeting the boy, she forms a negative impression about him. However, she is surprised to find that he is a very courteous and good-natured boy and soon she establishes a rapport with both the children.

All is well till chapter 3 when the governess encounters the ghost of Quint and in a later chapter the ghost of Jessel, both being the former employees at Bly. The governess then comes to the conclusion that there is some connection between the appearance of the ghosts and the children and that the latter are under the influence of the former. This generates circumstances that lead to conflicts between the governess and the ghosts on the one hand and the governess and the children on the other. These conflicts initiate action in the novel. The ghosts keep haunting the governess and the governess starts suspecting that the children are linked with the ghosts. This creates friction between the teacher and the students and leads to the scene of confrontation.


The climax occurs in chapters 20 & 24, when the governess confronts Flora and Miles and questions them. This scares Flora and she falls ill and the housekeeper has to soon take her away from Bly. When the housekeeper confronts Miles, he confesses to stealing the letter of the governess and behaving badly with some of his class-mates in school. Just then the ghost of Quint appears to the governess. The governess succeeds in driving away the ghost and looks relieved. However, when it reappears, she raises an alarm and alerts Miles about it.

The outcome of the action is that Miles guesses the presence of the devil, Quint in the room, though he is not able to see it. Then out of exhaustion and shock, he drops down dead. Chapters 21 & 24 thus show the denouement and the tale ends on a tragic note.

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