Friends gathered around a fire in a country house outside London on Christmas Eve entertain themselves by telling ghost stories. When a man named Griffin tells of a little boy who experiences a ghostly visitation, his friend Douglas notes, a few nights later, that the age of the child "gives the effect another turn of the screw" and proposes a ghost story unsurpassed for "dreadfulness" about two children. The manuscript of this true story has been kept in a locked drawer for twenty years, since the death of its writer. The story, which the writer and now Douglas have kept secret for forty years, Douglas's younger sister's governess, with whom he became friends when he was a university student at home on holiday.
The narrator quickly guesses that the reason the governess kept the story secret was that she was in love, and Douglas refuses to say more until the governess's manuscript arrives by post in three days. All the members of the group, eager to hear the answers to their questions about the story, pledge to stay at the country house, including a group of ladies who have planned to leave before three days time. When Douglas has bid the group a hasty good-night in the midst of their inquiries, one woman notes that regardless of whom the governess loved, Douglas was clearly in love with the governess.
The narrator notes that his narrative comes from an exact transcript, created when Douglas later gave him the governess's manuscript before his own death. On the fourth night at the country house, Douglas prepares to read his story to a reduced group, its small size increasing the thrill even further. (The ladies have indeed departed despite their earlier protestations.) He prefaces his actual reading with background information about the governess, the youngest daughter of a poor country parson from Hampshire, who at age twenty answered an advertisement placed by a gentleman seeking a governess for his orphaned niece and nephew.
The inexperienced young woman, who had never left Hampshire before, met with the gentleman on London's fashionable Harley Street. She was immediately impressed by his wealth, good looks, and bold manner, and, the narrator suggests, ultimately accepted the position because he made it appear as if he was doing her a favor by offering her the opportunity. The children lived at his lonely country house, Bly, in Essex, where little girl was currently looked after by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, and to which the little boy, who, though very young, had been sent away to school, would soon be coming home for the holidays. The death of their previous governess, which the gentleman notes caused "great awkwardness," had necessitated this arrangement.
Here, one listener demands of Douglas the cause of the governess's death, while another wonders if the position required danger to life. Douglas again tells his friends they shall soon hear the answers and instead speaks of how governess's youth and naïveté allowed her "seduction" by the gentleman - that her love for him, combined with the generous salary he offered, led her to accept the position at the time of a second interview. The beauty of this love, Douglas says, is that she only saw the gentleman twice. The man had a single condition which had frightened off all previous applicants. He made the governess promise that she would never contact or trouble him, instead dealing with all problems herself and getting money from his solicitor. Having agreed to his conditions, the governess never saw the gentleman again. Not until the next evening does Douglas begin reading the story.
To a far greater degree than most other books, The Turn of the Screw faces an interpretive crisis. Is it simply a ghost story, as Douglas intimates, or is the governess, from whom we will hear the rest of the tale, a madwoman and an unreliable narrator? James, in addition to being a novelist, was also a literary critic and the question of interpretation was one with which he was familiar.
The majority of the novel purports to be the manuscript written by the governess and is thus written in the first-person from her limited point-of-view. In speaking of the manuscript in the framing section, rather than simply beginning with the governess's narrative, James emphasizes that it represents the perspective of a single person. This opening framing section notably sets itself apart from the story. As told from an objective authorial perspective, in which the unnamed narrator himself speaks about his own transcription of the manuscript into the book his reader holds in his/her hands, it seems at first glance to provide the reader with trustworthy background information necessary for the story.
However, it is important to note that all the information provided about the governess comes not from the narrator but solely from Douglas, a man whom the characters themselves note was clearly in love with the governess. We hear from Douglas - rather than see for ourselves - that the governess was a young innocent whose employer took advantage of her inexperience. Douglas's words, unsurprisingly condemnatory of a man loved by this woman, shape the reader's assumptions as s/he begins the governess's narrative and demand s/he question the reliability of the story's narrators. Because of Douglas's emotional connection to the governess, we cannot be wholly certain about her innocence nor about the gentleman's conniving.
If we do accept Douglas's retelling of the governess's encounter with her employer, however, her tenuous position with regards to both gender and class becomes apparent. Her profession places her between two worlds. She seeks to align herself with the upper class world of her employer, who sees her, unlike the housekeeper Mrs. Grose, as the appropriate companion for his young wards. At the same time, she eschews identification with the servants, whom the employer enumerates alongside buildings and livestock - "a cook, a housemaid, a dairywoman, an old pony, an old groom, and an old gardener." The governess's desire to align herself with the upper class, however, are threatened by her employer's dismissal of the previous governess's death as a hindrance rather than a tragedy and by her need to accept the job because of a salary which "much exceeded her modest measure."
This opening section also reveals the origin of the book's title. Telling a ghost story in which a child is visited by a ghostly apparition, Griffin gives the already frightening tale one "turn of the screw." By telling a story about two children who encounter ghosts, Douglas says that he seeks to give the screw two turns. On this objective level, then, it seems that James intends his book as a ghost story. Douglas recalls that when he met the governess, he was a student at Trinity College - a college which, as James himself knew, was the center for psychical research in late nineteenth century Britain. At the same time, we must separate James's intention from that of Douglas, for whom the explanation of ghosts rather than madness renders the governess innocent, and remember that a biased character, rather than an objective author, frames these events.
The governess recalls the doubts and unease she felt after accepting the position from the gentleman in Harley Street. These doubts plagued her during the long coach ride to the country. There, she is met by a large horse drawn carriage which brings her to Bly. As she approaches the house, the beautiful summer day begins allay her doubts, and she is pleasantly surprised when she arrives at the house - impressed by its size, open windows with maids peering out, its lawns and flowers, crows flying overhead, so different than her own small house.
She is met at the door by a woman who curtsies "as if I had been the mistress or a distinguished visitor" and a little girl. The splendor of the house and its inhabitants make the governess believe her employer to be even more of a gentleman for underplaying his description of the place when hiring her. Immediately, she is thrust into an introduction to her young pupil that does not allow her to rest until the next day.
The little girl Flora, the governess immediately decides, is the most beautiful and charming child she has ever seen - yet another thing her employer had not mentioned to her. She can barely sleep that night because of her excitement at of all the surprises. She has been given one of the best and largest bedrooms in the house. It has full-length mirrors, and for the first time in her life, she can see herself from head to foot. Immediately, the governess assumes that Mrs. Grose - with whom she had earlier worried about getting along - is incredibly glad to see her, though she does not show it. Wondering why she guards against showing these feelings, the governess feels a bit uneasy.
She is not uneasy, however, about Flora, whose angelic beauty keeps her awake, wandering around her bedroom, looking out at the dawn. She hears birds sing outside, but thinks also that she has heard a few unnatural sounds coming from inside the house, what sounds like the far-away cry of a child and a footstep outside her door. Though she easily dismissed them at the time as fancies, in her present "gloom" the worrisome memory comes back to her.
Instead, she focuses her thoughts on Flora, who after that night will sleep in her room with her. She and Mrs. Grose had during the previous day discussed Flora's timidity and decided to allow her one last night in Mrs. Grose's room. Over dinner, with Flora present, they could only discuss her and her brother "obscure and roundabout allusions." Mrs. Grose assures her that Miles is just as "remarkable" looking as his sister and that she will be carried away by the "little gentleman."
When the governess says that she has already been carried away "in London," Mrs. Grose wants to know if it was "in Harley Street?" The governess confirms it, and Mrs. Grose tells her she's not the first, and she won't be the last. They proceed to talk about Miles, who is not coming home tomorrow, as the governess had anticipated, but on Friday, on the same coach the governess came on. The governess suggests that she and Flora meet him at the coach, and the governess takes Mrs. Grose's agreement to mean that they will agree on every matter.
The next day, the governess feels "a slight oppression" as she takes in her new circumstances, which both scare her and make her proud. Unable to concentrate enough to give lessons, she decides to get to know Flora by allowing the child to show her the grounds - including empty rooms, crooked staircases, and a tall tower that makes the governess dizzy. Within half an hour, they are "tremendous friends." Looking back, the governess says that to her older eyes, Bly would look ugly, empty, and far less important. At the time, she imagined it as a fairy tale, but now she sees it as a drifting ship with a few passengers, with her "strangely at the helm."
The material lens through which the governess judges her surroundings is readily apparent in this chapter. Her melancholy is only offset by her recognition of the size and appearance of Bly - to which her own "scant home" compares unfavorably. She is especially pleased by the ability this position gives her to transcend her station - as demonstrated by her happiness in seeing the two maids peeking out of the house as she arrives and her thrill at Mrs. Grose's curtsy. This chapter reverses the dynamic of the previous in which the governess had inhabited a lower class - and therefore held less power - than the gentleman.
In transcending her class, the governess usurps a position not rightfully hers - "the mistress." Taking the position of Flora's governess allows her to assume the role of mother. She is doing far more than giving lessons to Flora; she is functioning as her guardian, even having the child sleep in her room. Though she may not contact the gentleman, in acting the role of mistress of Bly and mother of Flora, the governess assumes the role of his wife by proxy.
The governess also, unthinkingly, usurps Mrs. Grose's position. She gives thought to Flora's feelings but notably not to Mrs. Grose's when deciding that the child will sleep in her room. Moving Flora's bed from Mrs. Grose's room to her own allows the governess to take the mother (and mistress) role that Mrs. Grose had previously inhabited.
Some critics argue that Mrs. Grose was literally the gentleman in Harley Street's mistress - that Flora and Miles are not his niece and nephew at all but his illegitimate children with his housekeeper. Mrs. Grose's facial expression - which the governess when writing her manuscript can still remember - when the governess speaks of being swept away in London, as well as her immediate guess that the governess is talking about Harley Street and her comment that "Miss, you're not the first" suggests that perhaps she herself has been swept away by the gentleman - physically or at least emotionally.
In this chapter, as well, we already see the thread of assumptions and veiled communication which characterize the novel. Mrs. Grose never says that she is glad to have the governess there, and in fact, the governess explicitly notes that she does not show any happiness. However, without any statements or evidence to support her conviction, the governess decides that Mrs. Grose must be happy. Likewise, she takes Mrs. Grose's assent to her suggestion that they meet Miles at the coach as an unspoken "pledge" that they should always agree - forgetting or ignoring that this woman, a servant who curtsied to her upon her arrival, may not have the freedom to disagree with her.
Interestingly, the governess's observations of and assumptions about Flora are all based upon physical appearance. Time and again, she calls her beautiful, describes her blond curls and blue eyes, and compares her to an angel, "indeed one of Raphael's holy infants." In part, this emphasis on Flora's seeming angelic nature makes her later corruption all the more disturbing, but at the same time, it demonstrates the fallibility of the governess's judgment, all of which is based upon appearance. Though she says that the child spoke incessantly on their tour of the grounds, she does not transcribe that dialogue, nor does she include her as a participant in her dinner time conversation with Mrs. Grose. In fact, her presence at the table is responsible for the ambiguity of the conversation. Mrs. Grose's assertions that Miles, like Flora, is "remarkable" and that he will carry the governess away have no definite positive meaning.
Despite the governess's positive attitude through much of the chapter, there remain elements which foreshadow the coming events. Her apprehension and doubts during the coach ride turn out to be well-founded. The crows which circle over Bly upon her arrival do not bode well for the visit. Crows are carrion-eaters, eaters of dead and decaying flesh, and are a symbol of death. Similarly, the child's cry and footstep the governess believes she has heard inspire a fear that is later fully realized. They might be the marks of ghosts or these sounds might be the onset of the governess's paranoia. In noting these instances of warnings or foreshadowing, it is important to remember that the governess is writing her manuscript from a position of hindsight, in which small things that meant nothing at the time have taken on greater meaning in light of the "gloom" which followed.
The governess concludes the chapter by announcing "I was strangely at the helm!" In creating this metaphor of herself as captain and Bly as a ship, which will later recur, she declares herself responsible not only for the care of the children but suggests that she is the force behind the events which are to occur at Bly. She is also at the helm of the book, reminding the reader that they are not seeing a transparent reality but rather her interpretation and retelling of the events.
The next day, the governess receives a letter from her employer. He has enclosed a still-sealed envelope from the head master of Miles's school along with a note ordering the governess to deal with it but not to report back to him. Though the governess struggles with the letter's thick seal, she does not read it right away. Rather, she leaves the letter to read in her room just before going to bed. Its contents, which she does not immediately disclose to the reader, give her another sleepless night.
On the following morning, she cannot bear her anxiety any longer and tells Mrs. Grose that Miles has been dismissed - permanently - from his school. When the governess offers the letter to Mrs. Grose when she wonders for the reason for the boy's dismissal, the housekeeper reveals that she cannot read. The governess then tells her that the letter lacks particulars but that she assumes they must mean that Miles is "an injury to others." This infuriates Mrs. Grose, who expresses her disbelief - disbelief that the governess professes to share, all the while feeling a burning curiosity to meet Miles. Mrs. Grose protests that the governess might as well believe such cruel things of Flora, who has left her penmanship exercises in the schoolroom and appeared in the doorway. The governess hugs and kisses Flora, feeling guilty for having suspected Miles.
That evening, the governess again approaches Mrs. Grose, who she thinks is trying to avoid her, on the staircase. She asks if Mrs. Grose had meant that Miles had never been bad, and Mrs. Grose unabashedly replies that she prefers a boy with the spirit to be naughty. When the governess worries about boys with the spirit to corrupt, Mrs. Grose laughs at her, wondering if she thinks Miles will corrupt her.
The next day, before meeting Miles, the governess asks Mrs. Grose about the children's former governess. She is told that the woman was young and pretty - as "he" seemed to like. She says she was referring to the master, but the governess suspects otherwise. Saying she won't tell tales, Mrs. Grose gives little information about the woman, except that she went off, seemingly on a well-earned holiday, without appearing to be ill. Only later did the master tell her that the woman had died, though he never said of what.
Though Mrs. Grose assures her otherwise, the governess here receives the first suggestion that Miles might be "bad." Again the ambiguity of the language the women use plays a part here. Mrs. Grose is shocked at the suggestion he might have done anything to warrant his dismissal from school, but at the same time, she expresses her joy that Miles can be a "bad boy" if he so desires. The problems of communication are magnified - the governess receives no specific account of the reason for Miles's dismissal, nor does Mrs. Grose enumerate what Miles's past naughtiness has entailed.
Psychoanalytic criticism suggests that the governess fits the model of the sexual hysteric that was well-known at the turn of the century. (James himself was familiar with hysteria, both through Breuer and Freud's Studien über Hysterie and through the illness of his sister Alice.) At the time, sexual hysteria was seen as a psychosexual disorder affecting primarily well-bred, intelligent women, as caused by the conflict between natural sexual desires and the repression of Victorian social ideals. As the daughter of a country clergyman, living a confined life without the possibility of expressing these feelings to a man to whom she consciously feels attraction. Such a state, psychologists of James's day believed, was characterized by a paradoxical combination of sexual frigidity and intense sexual preoccupations.
Here, the governess assumes that the head master's letter "can have but one meaning" - that Miles is "an injury to others." Those who read the governess as a sexual hysteric might well interpret her worries over Miles's ability to "contaminate" or "corrupt" - whether founded in truth or not - as particularly sexual fears. Faced with this unstated reason for Miles's dismissal, some critics in fact argue that Miles may have been engaging in homosexual behavior with his classmates, incited by what they will interpret later in the story as caused by Peter Quint's "corruption" of young Miles.
Unable to express her feelings directly to her employer - or even to contact him at all - the governess transfers her anxiety over him to her relationship with the children. Oddly, she and Mrs. Grose emphasize the master's preference for pretty, young employees when these employees are women he has chosen never to see again. Thus, the master uses the suggestion of sexual attraction to ensure his governesses' compliance. The governess's fear that Miles will corrupt her results from her association of Miles with his uncle - a man who, as Douglas says in the prologue, "seduced" her into accepting the job. Likewise, her desire to see the children as beautiful and good is a product of her worship of her employer.
The absent master has a great deal of presence in this section, especially in the discussion of the former governess. This governess's current assertion that "he seems to like us young and pretty" strengthens the parallel between herself and her predecessor. That connection becomes problematic when Mrs. Grose alludes to the reason for the other woman's death. The woman who went off, not apparently ill, and died, without a disclosed reason, may well have been pregnant and killed herself, as Mrs. Grose's later words will suggest even more strongly. As with Miles's story, the lack of explanation here allows the governess to fill in the gaps with her greatest fears.
Some critics argue that Mrs. Grose deliberately drives the governess mad because she resents the young woman's usurpation of her role. In this case, her changing reactions - first abhorring the thought of Miles's wrongdoing, then proclaiming his naughtiness, then laughing in the governess's face for her fears - create new anxieties within the governess's mind. Certainly, her seeming avoidance of the governess is noteworthy, suggesting that either she does resent the woman's presence or the governess is paranoid.
Even before Miles has entered the story, the governess has begun to have doubts. The uncertain reason for his dismissal, the undisclosed "he" of Mrs. Grose's slip of the tongue, and the unknown cause of the previous governess's death all foreshadow greater evil to come - whether it be from the governess's mind or from ghosts concealed by these secrets.
The governess begins the chapter by noting that Mrs. Grose's "snub," refusing to tell her any details regarding the previous governess's death, did not impede their continued friendship. After bringing home Miles, she says, she was more than ready to agree with the housekeeper that the charges against the child were ridiculous.
The governess meets Miles at the coach stop and instantly perceives him to be innocent and beautiful, unlike all other children she has known, seeming to have known "nothing in the world but love." When they arrive back at Bly, she expresses to Mrs. Grose her outrage and disbelief over the contents of the letter and professes her intention neither to reply to the letter nor to write the children's uncle nor mention the letter to Miles himself. Mrs. Grose agrees to support the governess in this decision, and the two kiss and embrace "like sisters."
Looking back, the governess says, she is amazed at her naïve belief that she could handle the situation. Though she remembers intending to resume Miles's studies that summer, she instead spent weeks enjoying herself and her charges. The children give her little trouble, and though she speculates on the pain the future could bring them, she can only imagine their lives to be like fairy tales.
During those long summer days, after the children have been put to bed and before the sun goes down, the governess has her "own hour," when she walks around the grounds of the country estate. She is happy because she knows she is giving pleasure to her employer by keeping worries about the children from bothering him and thinks herself to be a "remarkable young woman" for doing as he has asked.
One evening, the governess indulges in a frequent fantasy that a handsome someone - presumably her employer - would appear in the path and smile his approval. This night, as she comes into view of the house, she is surprised to see him standing up on one of the two large towers of the house, as if her fantasy had become reality.
Suddenly, she is shocked to see that the man is someone else entirely and as a woman alone, she is terrified to see a strange man staring down at her. Looking back on that experience, as she writes, the governess says that she still remembers it in great detail. Standing in the path, she looks up at him, all the sounds of nature seeming to have stopped, goes through every possibility of who he might be, and discards them all. He wears no hat and stares right at her, finally turning to cross to the other side of the tower.
This chapter is the site of the first significant critical controversy over the nature of the book. Who is the man in the tower? At this time, the governess does not even know - and that lack of knowledge is the reason for her fear. Many possibilities have been argued, the most common being that he is either the ghost of Peter Quint, of whom we shall hear presently, or the governess's hallucination. Another critic has suggested that perhaps Miles has dressed up in Quint's clothing and appeared on the tower as a sort of prank on the governess.
If we choose to see the man on the tower as a ghost, then his appearance to the governess marks an important turning point in the story. The governess herself makes a point of stating that he could not have been anyone she knew. At the very least, he is a stranger, and his appearance marks the introduction of an unknown and potentially threatening element into the idyllic life at Bly. The governess herself notes that "an unknown man in a lonely place is a permitted object of fear to a young woman privately bred." Once again, Victorian morality leads her to perceive a particularly sexual threat.
The nature of this threat is especially relevant to those critics who have described The Turn of the Screw as an allegory depicting the struggle between Good and Evil. In this reading, Bly is a sort of Paradise. The weeks of happiness, innocence, and beauty with the children, which the governess describes at the start of this chapter, are a sort of prelapserian Eden, whose inhabitants have known "nothing in the world but love." The vision of the man in the tower represents the introduction of Evil into this world. This curate's daughter, who might well recognize the sexual implications of the snake in the story of Adam and Eve, similarly sees the threat to her own Paradise as particularly sexual in nature.
The sexual connotations of the governess's encounter with the man in the tower are central to psychoanalytic readings of this text. If the governess is a sexual hysteric, then this man is actually a hallucination caused by a "hysterical fit." Notably, the governess is imagining a handsome man, to whom she feels sexually attracted, when she first glimpses the figure in the tower. Indeed, she herself notes that it seems as if, at first, her fantasy of seeing her employer smiling approvingly at her has transformed into reality.
Only at second glance does the man transform into a frightening stranger. While the governess may simply have been mistaken at first, the timing of his appearance, coupled with her imaginings, is suspect. Some psychoanalytic critics argue that her fear of male sexuality, as a repressed parson's daughter in Victorian England, is responsible for her transformation of the man from a sexually desirable figure to a sexually threatening one. Certainly, his appearance, standing "very erect" on a rather phallic tower, supports the psychoanalytic readings.
It is important to take note of the governess's description of the figure as she sees him in this instance, as compared to how she will later describe him to Mrs. Grose. Here, she gives little in the way of physical particulars - only mentions that he had an air of familiarity demonstrated by his lack of a hat and his staring at her. Later, she will give a far more detailed description - leading some readers to believe she must be prevaricating and others to insist that on the certainty of the figure's identity.
Here, too, we must also note the significance of her interaction with Mrs. Grose. After telling the housekeeper that she intends to do nothing in response to the head master's letter and receiving the woman's support, she finishes Mrs. Grose's sentence, "Would you mind, Miss, if I used the freedom -" to cement what she sees as their friendship. "To kiss me? No!" the governess replies and grasps the other woman in her embrace, though neither she nor the reader has received any affirmative evidence that it was Mrs. Grose's intention to kiss her. If Mrs. Grose is really hostile toward the governess, here is important evidence of the governess's blindness to the housekeper's feelings, demonstrated by her repeated talk of their friendship and sisterhood even while Mrs. Grose disagrees with and "snubs" her. Another less common reading of this kiss between the two women is critic Helen Killoran's proposal that all the characters in the novel are in fact bisexual.
On a more basic level, the governess's decision to ignore the letter from Miles's head master has profound plot implications. In choosing not to pursue the reason for the boy's dismissal with either the head master or Miles himself, the governess allows the continuance of a mystery that will later allow her to suspect Miles of wrongdoing and corruption. Her decision not to contact the boy's uncle is likewise a mistake - one born, as she notes in this chapter, of her desire to see herself as competent and to make herself happy by doing as the uncle had asked of her, rather than of any true ability to address the problem. Already she, who had previously seen herself as "at the helm" of the household, is in fact loosing power, despite her cherished illusion of control. Hired as a governess, she cannot even convince her ten-year-old charge to begin his lessons but instead allows him to "teach" her about enjoying the summer.
Deeply shaken by the figure she has seen in the tower, the governess loses all sense of time, wandering in circles for three miles. By the time she returns home, it is already dark, and Mrs. Grose's surprise at her agitated appearance convince her that the housekeeper had nothing to do with the figure she had seen. So glad to see this comforting sight is she that the governess spares the woman her the story of her encounter, instead offering a vague excuse for her lateness and heading to her room.
In the following days, she considers the encounter whenever she has free time - not yet nervous but afraid of becoming nervous. Her senses suddenly heightened, she observes the servants, wondering if they have played a prank, and decides they have not. Ultimately, she decides that the man must have been a traveler who boldly and inappropriately trespassed on the tower for the view it provided.
Rather than focus on her worries, the governess immerses herself in life with her charming pupils, making constant discoveries about them. Miles is so good and innocent she decides the head master must have been vindictive and mistaken. The children are angelic, and Miles never speaks of school. The governess knowingly ignores the issue and concentrates on her charges.
One Sunday, the rain prevents them from going to church in the morning, and so the governess and Mrs. Grose plan to go to the evening service after putting the children to bed. Realizing she has left her gloves in the dining room, the governess goes there to retrieve them and is stopped short by the figure of a man - the same man she had seen earlier in the tower - standing outside and staring in the window. When he moves his eyes off her and looks elsewhere in the room, she realizes he is there looking for someone other than her.
Realizing this, she runs out of the house to look for him outside, but he has already vanished. She waits for an uncertain amount of time for him to reappear and cannot see him hiding behind any trees or bushes. Finally, she goes back to the window, where she shocks Mrs. Grose, who has just entered the dining room, just as the man had surprised her, and wonders why the housekeeper is scared.
The governess's second sighting of the strange man is just as problematic as the first. That it appears to be the same man could be evidence that the governess's first impression, of seeing a handsome man on the tower, was simply a mistake, and that this is a particular stranger who exists in a reality outside her fantasies. Clearly, his second appearance proves wrong her suspicion that he is just a traveler passing through the area.
In both cases, the governess reacts in a similar manner - by wandering about, losing complete track of time. This may, of course, be a reaction to an intense shock, such as one might have in seeing a ghost. But notably, the governess does not yet think this man is a ghost. Even after the first encounter, when she guesses the man might be a traveler, she describes her reaction as "the shock I had suffered." This description of agitated wanderings, lost time, and intense shock all offer proof to the assertion that the governess has experienced a hysterical fit and hallucination.
Certainly, the governess's manner begins to change after the first shock. She describes how her senses are sharpened, which may be a result of necessary watchfulness or could be the beginnings of an intense paranoia. She is not acting completely rationally, as she herself notes, in her dealings with the pupils. Though she refuses to ask Miles about his school, she becomes increasingly convinced, based solely on lack of evidence and on Miles's own odd reticence in mentioning school, that the headmaster was vindictive and wrong.
The governess's continued comparisons of the children to angels and her observance of their gentleness plays into the allegory of a contest between good and evil. Whether or not there are ghosts, the governess clearly believes the children are good and innocent and already, she sees it as her duty to protect them from evil. If the children represent Adam and Eve and Bly represents Eden, the governess therefore has assumed the role of God - suggesting her role will be to protect the children but also to punish them for transgression.
At the beginning of the chapter, the governess alludes to famous novels in the Gothic tradition, Ann Radcliffe's 1794 The Mysteries of Udolpho and Charlotte Brontë's 1847 Jane Eyre. In part, this illustrates the literary tradition that influences James's writing. Additionally, it demonstrates the governess's desire - shown earlier in her many references to fairy tales - to see herself as a literary heroine, like Jane Eyre. This is especially significant since the governess is in fact writing her own story and is therefore able to portray herself as heroine, protector and defender of her charges. It relates, too, to her active imagination - responsible first for imagining her employer appearing to her and now for her musings about who the man she saw could have been. If the ghosts are not real - or even if they are simply benevolent - the governess's desire to see herself as heroine drives her to see the spirits as real threats to Miles and Flora which she can then vanquish.
The governess's continuous brooding on the figure after their first encounter may therefore be responsible for the figure she sees in the window - prossibly a product of her imagination. One critic has suggested that the windows would be too blurry on a rainy day for the governess to have seen the figure so clearly as she purports. Certainly, it is odd that she says she saw him no more distinctly than she had upon his appearance in the tower - when he was too far away from her for her to shout to him and be heard. Likewise, the governess's "certitude" that he had not come for her but for someone else results only from what she perceives is his glance away from her and around the room. She calls that realization a "flash of knowledge," yet she has no true evidence to support it.
The interactions between the governess and Mrs. Grose in this chapter are similarly puzzling. The governess is reassured when Mrs. Grose appears to have no idea why she is so upset after returning from seeing the man on the tower because it means the housekeeper is ignorant of the origin of the figure on the tower. And yet, when Mrs. Grose expresses fear when she sees the governess standing outside the window, she suspects that Mrs. Grose must know something she does not. Though she has pushed Mrs. Grose for answers to questions she cannot know - such as Miles's dismissal from school - in the past, here she cannot bring herself to ask what seems a simple and pragmatic question about the man in the tower - when the housekeeper, quite possibly, could know if he were a workman or visitor at the house.