In The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, a woman is hired to be the governess to Miles and Flora, two orphans places under the care of their distant uncle. The governess acts as a maternal figure and forms a close bond with the children. However, this new power of authority leads the governess into an obsession of becoming a heroine to the children. The governess’s conflict lies in her irrational desire to “save” Miles from unknown dangers. The governess first meets Miles after he is expelled from his boarding school and sent back home.
She is taken away by his beauty and takes it upon herself to protect the children from any harm.
However, the children are very well-behaved and don’t seem to be in need of saving. The governess begins to see the ghosts of deceased former employees of the estate. The governess learns that the male ghost that is appearing to her is Peter Quint, a former valet that was very close with Miles.
It is explained to her that Quint was a negative influence on Miles. The governess is led to believe that Quint may have corrupted Miles and brought upon a sense of wickedness that led to his expulsion. Yet, no other employee admits to seeing Quint’s ghost, nor does Miles. This concerns the governess, yet provides her with an opportunity to save her pupils. The governess awakes one night to find Miles standing outside in the yard. When she demands that he come inside, he confesses that he went outside to prove that he could be “bad” when he wanted to.
The governess believes that she has been right in her assumptions that Miles was expelled for wickedness. She now knows that Miles is not the sweet, innocent child she first met. She still desires to save Miles from harm, even though he may be the one putting himself in a state of danger.
The governess is left in a confusing situation, as Miles may be too corrupted to be saved at this point. At the end of the governess’s story, Miles dies after his heart stops. Noclear solution is shown regarding the governess’s conflict. She is still left with the mystery of Miles’s expulsion and relationship with Quint’s ghost. The governess’s conflict contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole because it provides more insight into the governess’s character. Her desire to “save” Miles from things unknown to her emphasizes her paranoia. The audience learns that the governess may not be reliable or sane. The governess’s constant fear of Miles being endangered, shows that basing a dilemma or solution solely on personal impressions and reasoning will lead to an irrational conclusion.