Turn Of The Screw

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade November 2001

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The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, has a movie version in addition to the book. Both accounts tell essentially the same story, but because many interpretations can be formulated, the movie is only an example of one interpretation. One particular section of interest is the very last scene in the movie and chapter 24 in the book. Although the movie makes it clear that the governess accidentally suffocated Miles, the book is up to personal interpretation of the cause of death, which in my opinion is an anxiety attack.

The interpretation illustrated by the movie, produced by Ben Bolt, is not nearly as involved as the book, and blames the entire incident on the governess using her pent up frustration to protect Miles by holding him so hard that he is suffocated in her grasp. It is a short ending to the movie, closing with a scene of the governess rocking lifeless Miles in her arms.

A deconstructive criticism titled " "The grasp with which I recovered him": A Child is Killed in The Turn of the Screw." by Shoshana Felman also interprets the ending as an accidental action committed by the governess. She writes, "The final paragraph suggests that he is accidentally suffocated by the governess in the strength of her passionate embrace" and "The word "grasp," which commands this closing paragraph, thus appears to account for Miles' death"(193). However, the way the governess describes Miles in the final minutes of his life conjure up a different interpretation of what may have happened.

After close inspection of the last chapter, it is clear that James does not intend to make the cause of Mile's death obvious to the reader. Because the governess tells the story, a murder would most likely not be confessed. Judging by the amount of sweat and shortness of breath experienced by Miles, it is evident that the cause of death is an anxiety attack. The governess explains the ""¦perfect dew of sweat on a lovely childish forehead" and ""¦the sudden fever of his little body the tremendous pulse of his little heart"¦" after he is forced to confess his crime of stealing the letter (James 113). After further questioning, Miles gets even more nervous, and even the governess realizes, ""¦the collapse of his mockery showed me how complete was the ravage of uneasiness"(James 113). Finally, when he is able to admit he found nothing in the letter, the governess observes as she kisses his forehead that he is drenched with sweat (James 114). Yet the governess does not stop here. The touchy subject of why Miles what kicked out of school is questioned, which really makes Miles nervous. She even proceeds to accuse him of stealing, which would cause a sensitive boy such as Miles great apprehension. He looked "in vague pain all round the top of the room and drew his breath, two or three times over, as if with difficulty"(James 114). This all occurs before he is grasped tightly by the governess, which causes the reader to think that the condition which caused his death started previous to the tragic second appearance of Quint in the window. Still attempting to explain the reason for his expulsion, Miles ""¦looked up at the dim day as if, of what had hitherto sustained him, nothing was left but an unspeakable anxiety" (James 115). Finally, as Miles is further provoked by the governess insisting that Quint is in the window, it is too much for such a child, and his anxiety proves to be fatal. He "...gave a frantic little shake for air and light"¦bewildered, glaring vainly over the place"¦" and "...jerked straight round, stared, glared again, and seen but the quiet day"¦uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss"¦(James 116). It is clear that the poor child was so traumatized by the accusations and images told to him by the governess, and the fact that he cannot escape the governess in her outburst, that his heart is overworked and stops out of extreme fear and nervousness.