Undetected Insanity

The governess in “The Turn of the Screw” is not a reliable narrator since she is losing her sanity. She is making connections between real life and things that do not exist. One example of this is in chapter 17 when the governess falsely perceives a chilly wind coming into the room closely followed by a shriek from Miles and then darkness. “So for a moment we remained, while I stared about me and saw that the drawn curtains were unstirred and the window tight. ‘Why, the candle’s out!’ I then cried. ‘It was I who blew it, dear!’ said Miles” (373). It seems that the governess believes that the cold gust she felt blew out the candle. The gust was not real, but she connected it to the real life occurrence of the candle being put out.  It can be inferred that the narrator is losing her sanity when it is mentioned that both the window and curtains are undisturbed. Miles justifies this further when he states that he blew the candle out. When it says that “she stared about her” it could imply that she is confused and flustered. She seemingly wonders why the gust occurred and “stare[s] about her” to find the cause, but finds none. This should have been proof to herself that she was going mad. This is one of the scenes that makes the narrator’s reliability decrease. The governess is the narrator and her perception of wind is proven wrong. It is hard to tell how many of the other things she has described might not be real either. If she is insane, she has low credibility as a narrator, and it is possible that other claims she has made in the story are false.



  1. It’s interesting that you bring up this particular scene, Sarina! I think your case with the insanity of the Governess is definitely a valid argument. Did she “stare about her” in a pure state of confusion and insanity or was her perception of the gust of frozen air so real and so unexplained that it only seemed natural to stare about her?

    Another vastly different interpretation of the Governess that can be taken from chapter 17 is that rather corruption from the ghosts, she is the one corrupting the children herself. At the bottom of page 91, the Governess “seize[d] once more the chance of possessing him.” Here her possessing of Miles could have two meanings. Does she sincerely want to possess (to hold) Miles to be comforting? Or does she want to possess (such as to possess someone’s body like a ghost) Miles’ innocent, pure soul to corrupt him? If this second meaning is true, it would make sense why Miles screams. He screams because the Governess is trying to possess him. To go even farther, Quint may have been already possessing Miles. The battle of both the Governess and Quint to possess Mile’s body is too overwhelming for Miles that he screams. In the end, it could be inferred that Quint wins the battle after Miles/Quint so calmly states (after so intensely screaming) “It was I who blew it, dear!” At the end of the story we again see this battle of possessing Miles between the Governess and Quint. On page 124, the Governess is embracing Miles and says “‘What will he ever matter? I have you,’ I launched at the beast, ‘but he has lost you for ever!'” When his little heart, “dispossessed”, stops, no one is a clear victor.

    This is what I love and hate about ghost stories – nothing is truly set in stone! As such, I don’t know for sure if the Governess did have a few loose screws, but I think that is what makes this story so exciting and unsettling – as readers, we’re unsure what we believe ourselves!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your blog post, Sarina! However, I disagree with the assertion that the conflicting accounts of how the candle being blown out actually points to the governess was crazy. On the contrary, I feel as if the conflicting accounts rather further highlight the role of the children, Miles in particular, playing mental games with the governess. Additionally, I think that the great snippet you pulled out of the text, mentioning the way the governess “stared about her”, shows this point even further. In staring about herself, we can see that the governess’ mind is attempting to make sense of the strange occurrences taking place around her. I would assert that if the governess were crazy, she wouldn’t need to make logical sense of her surroundings – she would merely accept it and add it to the new reality she was constructing in her mind. Altogether, I still really enjoyed reading this post and reading through interpretations so different than my own!

    I agree with you, Danny! One of my favorite parts of literature is how gray it truly is: anything goes! Loved reading your posts!

  3. Your claim is debatable, which is fantastic! I like the idea that you mention she is confused and flustered. Whenever somebody is confused, it is of course very likely that they can say/do things that are irrational, due to their incomplete point of view. I think it is conceivable that the narrator may be insane in this story as we see some pretty crazy things happen. Ghosts and visions of the likings to the story wouldn’t surprise me if they came from a narrator who was insane! Very strong paragraph, though, good work!

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