The governess, who was entrusted as the protector of the children, ultimately turns out to be the destroyer of them in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. So, she is responsible for the tragedy that takes place in the life of the children.
As we go through The Turn of the Screw, we find the character governess as a complex character and a combination of good and evil 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 novel projects her positive qualities, while the later part of the book exposes her negative traits.
The governess is a woman of twenty who is highly romantic, adventurous, imaginative and idealistic. Her romantic and adventurous mentality is shown at the beginning of the novel. When she takes the challenge of working in a remote place under strange condition, of course she had fallen for the charms of her employer was tempted to take up the job to please him.
When she reaches Bly, the big house evokes a mystic aura for the governess. As she explores the house with Flora, she passes through “empty chambers and dull corridors”. To the imaginative mind of governess, the house creates “the view of a castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite”.The beginning of the story is set up very neatly for us. In the story Miss Giddens, a governess agrees to take a position at the estates of Bly. The position requires taking care of two young children, the advertisement having been posted by the uncle, who asks not to be disturbed, even under the most serious of circumstances. She takes the coach to the estate and is welcomed there by the children and their housekeeper.
At the evening she often strolls through the grounds and mediates on the beauty of her surroundings. Sometimes she wishes her employer could know how much she enjoys the place and how well she is executing her duties. Her desire to meet the employer as well as a stranger is soon fulfilled. One evening using her stroll, she does perceive the figure of a strange man on top of the old towers of the house. He appears rather distinct, but she is aware that he keeps his eyes on her. She feels rather disturbed without knowing why. It seems obvious that the governess is infatuated by her employer and her infatuation is psychotic enough to allow her to create ghost. She takes it seriously and spends much time thinking about the encounter. She wonders if there was a secret at Bly.
In her imagination she has created the picture of a handsome person. One Sunday as the group is preparing to go to church, the governess returns to the dining room to retrieve her gloves from the table. Inside the room she notices the strange weird face of a man staring in at her in a hard and deep manner, suddenly, she realizes that the man has “come for someone else.” She tells the housekeeper that the apparition was looking for little Miles. She cannot explain how she knows this, but she is sure of it. Through her description Mrs Grose, the house keeper identifies him as Peter Quint, the ex-valet who has been dead for about a year.
Just when she seems happy in the company of the children, she is troubled by the visit of this strange man. Always after a happy session with the children, she experiences shock. Thus, the governess who was feeling secured at first, starts feeling insecure. She feels distressed but draws inspiration from the smiling faces to carry on business. Once again after days of fun and fulfillment with the children, she spots the face in the window of the dining room. One day, while playing with Flora near the lake, she probably observes a figure on the other side of the lake.
She exaggerates the issue. She is highly opinionated. She surmises that Flora has seen the vision, but is pretending to be ignorant about it. Without being sure, she casts aspersions in the innocent child. She is impulsive when she hears that Miles had been close to Quint and had knowledge of his affair with Jessel, the governess jumps to the conclusion that Miles has acquired evil characteristics. She starts justifying his dismissal from school.
She starts looking at the children with a biased eye and exhibits negative attitudes towards them. One night she hears some movement outside her door and becomes alert. She opens the door and walks towards the staircase. She notices the figure of Peter Quint in the landing. From such a short distance he looks frightening. When she returns to her room, she is shocked to find Flora missing from her bed; Flora appears from behind one of the curtains. One night she finds Flora looking through the window and Miles standing outside. The governess develops a negative attitude towards the children. Thus she views their every word and every action with suspicion.
The governess feels the heed to escape from the whole situation and run away from Bly. But she fears that the spirit might take complete possession of the children if she leaves. She decides to stay back Bly. With this intention, she returns back to the house to pack her things, she is shocked to see Miss Jessel sitting on a desk and looking at her with melancholic eyes.
More than the children, it is the governess who seems to be possessed by the spirits. She forgets that Miles and Flora are children who need freedom to enjoy themselves and move around.
The governnes and Mrs Gross walk around the lake and finds that Flora is not around. Miles feigns innocence over Flora's whereabouts, so the governess seeks the aid of Mrs. Grose. The governess and Mrs. Grose go to the lake, where they find the boat missing. After walking around the lake, the governess finds Flora and, asks her bluntly where Miss Jessel is. The governess points to the image of Miss Jessel as proof that the specter exists, but Mrs. Grose and Flora claim to see nothing. The ghost appears to the governess. She takes if for granted that evil spirit posses the children and their activities revolve around the ghost. Thus, when she finds Flora missing she comes to the conclusion that the girl has gone to meet Jessel and also that Miles sends his sister away so that he can meet Peter Quint.
The next morning, the governess finds out from Mrs. Grose that Flora was struck with a fever during the night. The governess encourages Mrs. Grose to take Flora to her uncle's house for safety. The governess and Miles discuss the matter of whether he took a letter she had written the day before from the hall table it was Quint who appeared in "his white face of damnation", looking intently at her like "a sentential before a prison". Her main concern at this moment is to protect the boy; it was like "fighting with a demon for a human soul".The apparition still has his eyes fixed on the governess and the boy, lurking like "a baffled beast." But the governess gathers her strength and is determined to face it. He suddenly disappears. She then asks Miles about what he did to result in his being expelled from school, and they have a very long conversation. Eventually she is able to get the truth out of him. He also admits to stealing a letter that the governess had finally decided to send to his uncle. During their talk, Quint's ghost appears to the governess. Miles ask if it is Miss Jessel, but she forces him to admit that it is Peter Quint. He turns suddenly around to look and falls in her arms. The governess clutches him, but instead of a triumph she discovers that she is holding Miles’ dead body.
It seems more reasonable to assume that the ghost has visible only to the governess and through her psychotic imagination; she simple frightened the young boy to death. She vows to protect innocent children and to play the part of god mother. But it is ironic that the more the governess thinks of guarding the children against evil, the more they are exposed to it. She fails in her mission and is partly responsible for the child’s plight.