“The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James- Summary, Analysis, Characters & Themes

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About the Story: The Turn of the Screw

TitleThe Turn of the Screw
AuthorHenry James
GenreGothic fiction, psychological thriller
SettingBly, an old English country estate in the 19th century
Narrative StyleFirst-person narrative presented as a manuscript written by the unnamed governess
ProtagonistThe unnamed governess hired to take care of Miles and Flora at Bly
AntagonistsThe ghosts of Peter Quint (former valet) and Miss Jessel (previous governess)
AtmosphereChilling, eerie, and mysterious
StyleJames’s prose is characterized by its use of vivid imagery, psychological depth, and ambiguity

Analysis: The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw” is a chilling and mysterious tale written by Henry James. Set in the 19th century, the story unfolds in an old English country estate, Bly, where a young governess is hired to take care of two orphaned children, Miles and Flora. The narrative is presented as a manuscript written by the governess, who remains unnamed throughout the story, and is intended for her employer.

Characters: The Turn of the Screw

The characters of “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James are:

  1. The Governess: A young woman hired to take care of two orphaned children, Miles and Flora, at Bly Manor.
  2. Miles: A charming and mysterious young boy living at Bly Manor. There are hints of a troubled past.
  3. Flora: A sweet and innocent young girl, the sister of Miles. She is also under the care of the governess.
  4. Mrs. Grose: The housekeeper at Bly Manor, responsible for overseeing the staff and helping the governess with the children.
  5. Peter Quint: A former valet at Bly Manor who had a questionable influence on Miles. He is now deceased but is a lingering presence.
  6. Miss Jessel: The previous governess at Bly Manor, who also had a questionable relationship with Quint. She is deceased as well but appears to have an impact on the story.

Themes: The Turn of the Screw

The themes of “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James are:

  1. Ghosts and the Supernatural: The story explores the eerie presence of ghosts and supernatural elements, creating a mysterious and unsettling atmosphere.
  2. Ambiguity and Uncertainty: The narrative is built on ambiguity, leaving readers unsure about whether the ghosts are real or products of the protagonist’s imagination, adding a layer of suspense.
  3. Psychological Horror: The psychological impact of fear and paranoia on the characters is a central theme, blurring the lines between reality and the characters’ perceptions.
  4. Isolation and Loneliness: The story delves into the theme of isolation, both physical and emotional, as the characters grapple with their own fears and the remote setting of the estate.
  5. Corruption of Innocence: The corruption of the innocence of the children under the influence of the supernatural forces forms a haunting aspect of the narrative.
  6. Repression and Repressed Desires: The characters’ repressed emotions and desires play a role in the unfolding of the story, adding a psychological dimension to the narrative.
  7. The Governess’s Perspective: The narrative is filtered through the perspective of the governess, exploring the limitations and biases of her point of view, and questioning the reliability of her narration.

Watch Full Video Summary of “The Turn of the Screw”

The Turn of the Screw Summary

The story begins with the governess eagerly anticipating her new position at Bly. She is welcomed by Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, who briefs her on the peculiar circumstances surrounding the children. Miles and Flora’s parents are deceased, and they are left in the care of their uncle, who resides in London and wishes not to be bothered with any issues concerning the children. The governess is entrusted with their complete supervision.

The initial days at Bly seem idyllic, with the sprawling estate, charming children, and a picturesque landscape. However, the atmosphere takes a turn when the governess begins to see mysterious figures lurking around the property. These apparitions, she later learns, are the ghosts of the former valet, Peter Quint, and the previous governess, Miss Jessel, both of whom had died under mysterious circumstances.

The governess becomes convinced that the ghosts are targeting the children, particularly Miles and Flora, though the children claim not to see the spectral figures. She is determined to protect the children from the malevolent influence of the ghosts, despite Mrs. Grose’s initial skepticism.

As the governess delves deeper into the mysteries surrounding Bly, she discovers that Quint and Miss Jessel had a scandalous and inappropriate relationship during their time at the estate. She becomes convinced that the ghosts are attempting to corrupt the innocent minds of Miles and Flora from beyond the grave.

The tension escalates when the governess confronts Miles about his knowledge of Quint. The boy, who had been expelled from school under mysterious circumstances, is reticent about divulging any information. The governess, however, is certain that Miles is harboring dark secrets and is under the influence of Quint’s ghost.

The governess becomes increasingly obsessed with protecting the children, and her mental state starts to unravel. She sees the ghosts more frequently, often in close proximity to the children. The line between reality and the supernatural becomes blurred, leading to a sense of ambiguity that permeates the narrative.

Flora, sensing the governess’s growing distress, is abruptly sent away to her uncle in London. The governess is left alone with Miles, and the tension reaches its peak as she confronts the boy about his involvement with the ghosts. In a climactic moment, Miles confesses to having stolen a letter from the governess, a letter she had written to his uncle detailing her suspicions about the children’s exposure to the ghosts.

The story concludes with a tragic turn of events. As the governess embraces Miles in an attempt to protect him from the ghosts, she is met with a chilling vision of Quint’s face. In that moment, Miles dies in her arms. The novella ends with the governess realizing the extent of her obsession and the tragic consequences of her actions.

“The Turn of the Screw” is a psychological thriller that leaves readers questioning the reliability of the narrator. The ambiguity surrounding the existence of the ghosts and the governess’s mental state adds layers of complexity to the narrative. Henry James masterfully crafts a story that explores the thin line between reality and the supernatural, leaving readers to interpret the events and draw their own conclusions about the true nature of the haunting at Bly.


What is The Turn of the Screw about?

A governess caring for two children in a remote country house becomes convinced that they are being haunted by ghosts.

What is the main message of The Turn of the Screw?

The main message of The Turn of the Screw is that appearances can be deceiving and that the truth is often hidden beneath the surface.

Why is turn of the screw so scary?

The Turn of the Screw is scary because it is unclear whether the ghosts are real or just the governess’s imagination.

Are the children innocent ?

The innocence of the children remains ambiguous throughout the story, leaving readers to question their true nature.

What happened at the end of Turn of the Screw?

The governess’s obsession with the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel leads to Miles’s mysterious death in her arms.

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