A Screw Loose?

     The Turn of the Screw, written by Henry James in 1898, dealt with the psychological state of the governess and the children, Miles and Flora. Henry James, the author, never fully explains the uncle, however. For example, why did he not wish to live at his country estate, and why did he not want the governess to bother him? James leaves the readers to form their own opinion concerning the uncle as he does with the other characters. The reader is forced to question the mental state of all the occupants in the household, but does the reader ever really consider the state of mind of the uncle? The circumstances are similar to those in the 1961 movie, The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton.

     The uncle plays only a small absentee role in the play. We never get a really detailed description of his character, and we are only told that he wants the governess (played as Miss Giddens by Deborah Kerr in the movie) to raise the children and never concern him about any problems. When I first learned that the uncle (Michael Redgrave) did not want to know anything about what the children (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) were doing, I thought that he was up to something. It seems very odd that the children's uncle does not even want to know of their progress, or that his money is improving them. There can be a few explanations for his reasoning, some more practical than others.

     The first is that he does not like children and wants absolutely nothing to do with them socially. He is kind enough to help his niece and nephew through giving them an education and by providing them food and lodging; however, he wants nothing to do with raising them. Since he is so busy with work, he decides to hire someone to raise them.

     When Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) explained the disappearance of the last governess as having gone off and died; I thought that the uncle might have killed her. Why would he kill her off? Well, maybe he had visited more often at the estate at that time and had grown to love the last governess. When he discovered that she was in love with Quint (Peter Wyngarde), he decided to put an end to both of them. Since Quint died mysteriously by falling against a rock in the book or on the stairs in the movie, would it not have been logical to conclude that the uncle had pushed him? With the governess (Clytie Jessop), he could very easily have taken her on a boat ride and pushed her in. Suppose she could not swim, or he had acted as if he were going to pull her up and then held her under until she drowned.? Eventually after having visited later on, he gets it in his head that the house is haunted by the two lovers, and so he decides to stay in town.

     Another consideration is that he despises the children. Perhaps he may have known that the children were evil all along. When the parents placed him in charge of their custody, they had left a letter, stating that the children had been introduced to something beyond belief in India, therefore, leaving the uncle no choice but to seclude them. He knew that they were keeping dreadful secrets; and, instead of having to deal with them himself; he decided to hire someone to take care of them.

     Even though James and the film makers did not leave us with any certain explanation of why the uncle acted as he did, they allow us to consider the possibilities. The uncle may not play an equally involved part in the story as the governess; however, though it is not hard to see how he can be just as unstable. It turns out that we can add the uncle to the list of people in the play that have a screw loose.

Leah Sims

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