The Innocents and the Naive

         The governess in Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw, who was named Miss Giddens in Jack Clayton's 1961 The Innocents, was raised to believe. A devout father in a small home raised her with a large family and a Bible. She (Deborah Kerr) had been taught wrong from right, according to Christian doctrine and without an ounce of training in the outside world.

         Christian doctrine alone does not tell one how to deal with a school that expels a child without sufficient explanation. Therefore, when Miles (Martin Stephens), is so expelled, Miss Giddens' lack of reaction in this matter is the first clue that she is probably way in over her head. She does not even write the school asking for a satisfactory explanation for the expulsion.

         In the matter of ghosts, she is completely naïve. In the movie thinks she hears someone calling Flora (Pamela Franklin) when she first enters the property. As strange as this seems to her, it is not a completely uncommon experience for anyone. It just tends to be written off as the imagination. And even though she eventually writes it off as such, one can tell it disturbed her. And like this first experience, not one thing she heard or thought she saw ever struck me as unexplainable or particularly disturbing. (I am a desensitized twenty-first-century student, true, but she was really getting worked up.)

         Anyone who has studied ghosts can tell one that the worst thing one can do is get worked up. One really do lose one's head. Each creak becomes an approaching molester; every shadow turns into a deceased malefactor. Things that normally seem friendly turn frightening. And the more you entertain such ideas, the more power they gain.

         Miss Giddens was right at first to question the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins), about the house and its people; but, towards the end when she suspected that the children were being haunted, she should have at least consulted an outsider. She did consider broaching the local parson about how to deal with ghosts, but she never did. Had she gone to him, he could have potentially dispelled her fears, looked into the house itself, or helped her banish the shades of Peter Quint (Peter Wynegarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop). He could have also counseled her on dealing with Miles and the school. Having grown up in a devout family, she should have had an idea how broad the function of the parson was. And if any exorcisms or banishments were needed, then it would be the more experienced parish leader who should decide how to go about it.

         But naïve as she was, she did not realize that she did not have the know-how or experience to determine how to release the children from the ghosts' holds, or even if such a thing were necessary. She was(as we all are) blind to her own ignorance. In the end it was not just her sheltered upbringing that had brought her downfall and tragedy on her charge's head. It was her own hubris in thinking she knew what to do or exactly what was going on.

Marissa Gentry

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