Children: Why Are They Receptive to Ghosts?

     Ever since man was created and man has died, there has been speculation whether or not ghosts exist. For some reason, children have always seemed more receptive to these ghosts. This idea is the subject of the story, The Turn of the Screw (1898), by Henry James. This story inspired the 1961 film, The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton. The story revolves around the characters, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens). These two children live in an enormous mansion located in the country. The housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins), and the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), care for them. We can tell from the beginning of the story that there are suspicious things occurring with the children. The children are obviously being influenced by the spirits that haunt their house. The spirits are those of the former governess, Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), and the valet, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde).

     The title of the movie and play, The Innocents, suggests an explanation for the children's receptiveness. If one really looks at the behavior of the children, the governess, and Mrs. Grose, one sees quite a difference. While we see the children and the governess being influenced by these ghosts, Mrs. Grose is not influenced in the least. She is unaware of anything out of order except the governess' behavior. Mrs. Grose thinks the governess is losing her mind. Why is Mrs. Grose unaffected? It would lead me to believe that, since Mrs. Grose is much older and much less corruptible, she is not affected. The governess, even though she is an adult, is still innocent when it comes to cynicism and skepticism. The governess is very childlike in some of her actions and ideas. That is why she is also manipulated.

     There are several films, such as The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist, and The Amityville Horror, that follow this same idea. The common thread between the above-mentioned films and The Innocents is the idea of the children being controlled. These ghosts are acting as authority figures over the children. Why would a ghost try to influence a close-minded, mature adult, when a child is so open to new experiences and ideas? What is it about children that make them so much more receptive to the ghosts?--their innocence?--their ability to be influenced so easily? It definitely seems that way. I feel it may be a combination of both. We see children being manipulated by living people every day. That is how ideas and morals are passed down from one generation to the next. Flora and Miles are shrouded by the spirits around them. Even though these people are deceased, they are not going to lose their influence over these children. They do not want their ideas and feelings to die along with them.

     What The Innocents and the other films make clear, is that children are very receptive to ghosts. The reason why children and the young in mind seem to be targeted by ghosts will probably never be fully understood. What else makes them different? All we know is that this idea is shared by many. Whether or not the reader is a believer or a skeptic, everyone would agree that this idea is more than just coincidence.

Jamie Steffy

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