In The Turn of the Screw ,Henry James, leaves the reader to determine many things left ambiguous such as the reason for Miles’s expulsion and just what is meant by Peter Quint being “too free” with the children. Perhaps the biggest inference the reader must make is whether the governess is truthful and actually sees ghosts which may harm the children or whether, for whatever reason, she is not telling the truth. I believe that the ghosts are only a hallucination of the governess. I also think that the governess is suffering from a mental disorder, possibly paranoid schizophrenia.
Hallucinations are common in paranoid schizophrenia, which would explain the images of the ghosts (which only she sees as both Mrs. Grose and Flora deny seeing the image of Miss Jessel which the governess claims to see). Auditory hallucinations also occur and the governess repeatedly mentions the absence of sound as an indicator of her visions. When she sees Quint in the tower, the birds stop chirping and the leaves stop rustling. She mentions the “dead silence” when she sees Quint on the stairs as the indication that her encounter is unnatural.
She also has delusions of persecution, thinking the ghosts will harm the children and then believing the children to be conspiring with the ghosts. There are delusions of grandeur as well, with her seeing these events as an opportunity to be a heroine and win the affections of the employer with whom she is in love. In addition the governess is clearly repressed sexually, due in part to the strict morals of both the Victorian Era and of her religious upbringing as “the youngest of several daughters of a poor country parson”. The reader cannot help to observe her attraction to the males with whom she comes in contact.
After only a brief interaction, the governess is immediately wooed by the children’s uncle. She is fantasizing about him when she first sees Quint’s image in the tower. She is undoubtedly attracted to Miles as she is shown constantly hugging and kissing him. At the beginning of the story we find that she has also been previously attracted to Douglas. It is also quite possible that she sexually abused the children as well. The governess insists that Flora sleep in her bedroom. Toward the end of the story we learn that Flora wants to be rid of the governess and has made accusations against her which are horrible and shocking.
The governess is constantly touching, hugging, and kissing Miles. “…’Dear little Miles, dear little Miles-! ’My face was close to his and he let me kiss him. ” (The incident where Miles tells her that his behavior was to have her perceive him as “bad” could have been a figment of her delusional mind. ) After a comment from Mrs. Grose , the reader inferred that the governess suspected possible sexual abuse of the children by Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. This could have been the governess’s way of dealing with what she has done – to project this act on ghosts.
The circumstances of Miles’s death are also questionable and uncertain. The logical reason for his death is that the governess suffocated him. As she presses him against her, it is possible that the frail child could have been smothered to death by an overly passionate and powerful embrace. The wonderful and at the same time frustrating thing about the book is that the reader must decide whether to believe the governess, whether the children are innocent or possessed, etc. The way the book is written, the author insists that we provide our own answers and that we are accountable for our own lurid and prurient interpretations.