The Innocents:

An Analysis of the Psychological State of Miss Giddens

     Throughout the many twisting turns of the 1961 film The Innocents (directed by Jack Clayton), the validity of the spirits that supposedly inhabit the Bly estate can be questioned by the viewer. Due to the ambiguous nature of the film, it is easy to see how the viewer can be so uncertain of whether the estate is actually haunted or if the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is potentially insane. By examining the psychological state of Miss Giddens--which is better depicted in the film than in the 1898 Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw, on which it is based--—one can reason reason that the "ghosts" may just be the result of the over-stressed mind of a fanciful young woman, unnamed in the book.

     In the book, the governess is indeed young; she is barely twenty years old when she takes the post of governess for the two orphaned children; although, as played by Deborah Kerr on screen, Miss Giddens is well into her thirties. Leaving her family for the first time to become the completely responsible for the huge estate and the children would present a stressful situation for most anyone. However, when Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, as played by Megs Jenkins, points this out to her, she suddenly changes the subject. Could this be identified as "denial?" When she discovers that the children may have in some way suffered abuse, she is further stressed; the knowledge that the former governess died does not help. In my opinion, Miss Giddens is literally "scared witless" at the authority that has been suddenly placed in her hands by the children's uncle.

     The uncle (Michael Redgrave), I believe, actually makes this condition worse by refusing to be notified in case of any emergency and by pointing out that the children--whom Miss Giddens knows to have been orphaned as well as shocked by the sudden death of their former governess--need someone to belong to who will also belong to them. This is quite a tall order for a young woman who had been the youngest child--whom birth order usually dictates takes orders rather than gives them--of a family headed by a domineering father.

     The naïve and inexperienced Miss Giddens possesses an almost-unhealthy need to succeed, however, due in part to the solemn promise to which the uncle makes her agree. Although she truly wants to triumph in her new post, Miss Giddens is overwhelmed by the enormity of her task. She is so overwhelmed and filled with a fear of failure, that she, through the great imagination to which she admits, begins to "see" things that she can use in order to remove herself from this situation. The results of her over-stressed imagination and deep-rooted fear are the "spirits" that she sees and their supposed "possession" of the children. In fact, Miss Giddens becomes quite paranoid about the children. She is frightened by the signs that she sees of abuse and emotional neglect in the children; and, in her youthful inexperience (she is neither a mother, nor did she have younger siblings), she is unsure and unable to mentally handle the situation. Since they repeatedly inform her that they do not see what she sees, she begins to see them as liars. In addition, when the children are in conversation with one another, she feels that they are talking about her or about what she terms "horrors."

     In my opinion, Miss Giddens does become quite insane as her fear grows. Miles points out to her that she herself fears that she is "mad," while Mrs. Grose, once her ally, feels that her treatment of Flora (Pamela Franklin) is cruel. However, she is so set on banishing the "ghosts" (which, for Miss Giddens, are a visual translation of her multi-faceted fear) that she becomes even more determined to "save" Miles (Martin Stephens). (She tells Miles that her father had taught her to help people even if they resisted her efforts or if her efforts hurt them--so her psychological stress goes back quite a way.) Her efforts, in my opinion, result in her scaring Miles to the point of actual heart failure.

Melody Enoch

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