The Stereotypical Child

         In The Turn of the Screw, written in 1898 by Henry James and its play, The Innocents, written in 1950 by William Archibald, as well as the movie The Innocents, directed in 1961 by Jack Clayton, the governess, named Miss Giddens in the play and movie, adores all children and sees them as peaceful, loving creatures capable of doing no harm. The governess, played on screen by Deborah Kerr, refers to Miles (Martin Stephens in the film) and Flora (Pamela Franklin in the movie) as "The Innocents," but in reality the children are portrayed as everything but innocent. This leads back to the question of whether or not the ghosts that the governess sees are real. Does she honestly see the ghosts, or is that what her mind makes her believe because she cannot bring herself to realize that the children are capable of doing such wicked and horrible things?

         Children are stereotyped as blameless, pure, naive, and harmless creatures. But not all children fit this mold. What they observe growing up, becomes normal for them. Since they are easily influenced by adults and peers, they take on similar characteristics of those people, whether they are positive or negative. Because of their lack of parental figures, Miles looks up to Quint, and Flora adores Miss Jessel, despite their shameful behaviors.

         Miles does not fit the stereotypical child in any way. Miles is expelled from school; and, in the play and movie, he strangles the governess, hurts animals, recites morbid poems, and uses filthy language. Flora's evil personality is more subtle than her brothers. She always sings the same eerie tune; the governess has nightmares about her; and her scream is haunting. These characteristics are similar to the ones they observed from Quint (Peter Wyngarde in the movie) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop in the movie).

         Since the audience is able to see the ghosts' figures in The Innocents, the movie leaves little room for debate about whether or not the ghosts are real. However, in The Turn of the Screw, it could just be the children mocking the appalling behaviors of the adults that raised them that causes their wickedness, rather than ghosts possessing them.

Alison Webster

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