Chilling Ambiguity

        Henry James’s 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, filmed in 1961 by Jack Clayton as The Innocents, often leaves many readers scratching their heads. Was the governess (Deborah Kerr) truly seeing ghosts or was she, in fact, delusional? I tend to lean more towards the idea that she is having delusions about seeing Miss Jessel and Peter Quint (Clytie Jessop and Peter Wyngarde). This could be due, in part, to the fact that I am a nursing major; I am more prone to assess with logic. Despite what one believes to be true, the pure ambiguity of the novel will leave readers second-guessing their opinion again and again. This is what make the story so delightful and mesmerizing, in my opinion.

        Another part to the story could be up for debate as well. There are some sexual innuendos and hinting towards an idea of some molestation. If there was molestation occurring between the governess and Miles (Martin Stephens), that could be disputed on and on. However, there were several instances of sexual connotation. When the governess tucked Miles in for bed, she first stood over him, then gradually got to the point where she sat next to him. One instance where she found him awake in his bed and she asked, “What is it... that you think of?” He responded, “What in the world, my dear, but you?” He always referred to the governess as “My dear,” which implies some sort of liking beyond what is appropriate. She was interested in his supposed “innocence” from the beginning, and was almost pushing him to say the naughty things that he thought. All of this is evidence that there was some sort of sexual tension or molestation occurring; however, nothing was ever blatantly stated to quench the reader’s and viewer’s wondering mind.

        These obscure and somewhat disturbing details, which make up James’s novella and Clayton’s movie are what lend the story to many ongoing debates. The vague nature of the story makes it captivating and thought over once the pages have all been read and the scenes appreciated. Is this a simple ghost story, or is it a deep and winding tale of psychiatric and sinful roots? Ultimately, that is for the reader and viewer to decide.

Sarah Willig

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