Corrupted youth in Henry James’s novel The Turn Of The Screw is a result of bad influences of faulty role models or even of the society which came to be due to lacking of basic roles of the family with the intend of properly raising children. As a consequence of such factors children are forced to grow up ahead of time with the influence of the people who often don’t have the best characteristics. Altogether influences the growth and proper education of children.
Both Miles and the governess had a similar childhood in some aspects. The name of the governess is never stated because the name doesn’t have that much weightiness because it represents the masses which means that through her character we are shown that not only them (the governess, Flora and Miles), but other people in the society could have been raised in such a way. It was never really up to them to chose a different path.
Ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are not necessarily a direct threat for Miles and Flora. It is just the opposite. They have a strong connection with them and are hence a danger that is in the children themselves. Both Flora and Miles have to be sheltered from the wraiths in order for them to grow up without any troubles and worries.
At the beginning of the story, the children are described as having angelic beauty and admirable manners but also seen as unblemished beings. As the story progresses the two are more and more influenced by the ghosts and start changing on the both physical and moral level. When the corruption from within comes out on the outside the form of intellectual and physical maturity is taken.
The governess constantly refers to their physical appearance; Miles is seen as “incredibly beautiful” whereas Flora “extraordinary charm” and “most beautiful”. Both of them share an intrinsic “beauty and amiability, happiness and cleverness”. When this physical appearance turns out to be “unnatural goodness” and the mutation finally takes place (HEILMANN, 1960; 177), which is what makes the stress on their beauty appalling. Looks, beauty and charm aren’t a principle of a person but rather show that what’s inside is far more important than what is on the outside. In that we can see that not everything that is beautiful is at the same time good.
During summer and autumn the children are seen as beautiful and innocent but as soon as the winter comes the innocence disappears and turns into corruption. Children’s innocence, influenced by the ghosts, gradually vanishes and they eventually enter the phase of experience. The governess says that Flora is an old, old woman when the girl is completely exposed to the wraith of Miss Jessel (ToS, 1994; 96). On top of that, Mrs. Grose, who knew Flora all of her life is also able to see that it has made her, every inch of her, quite old (ToS, 1994; 103). As for Miles, his corruption is shown at the moment when he states that he wants more freedom and states that (…) alter all, I’m a fellow, don’t you see? that’s–well, getting on (ToS, 1994; 78). The governess didn’t see all the changes that are happening to the kids during their growth and entering the new stages of their lives because she wanted to hold onto them whilst still young and didn’t want to let them grow up.
The governess thinks that the only way to save children from the wraiths is by educating them, and this is actually what evokes the development of a child and prepares it for the period of adolescence. Since she didn’t want to accept the fact that they are slowly becoming young people she realized, although too late, that they were on their way of becoming their own people. This can be seen when the governess began to recognise that Miles isn’t a child anymore his having lied and been impudent are, I confess, less engaging specimens than I had hoped to have from (Mrs. Grose) of the outbreak in him of the little natural man (ToS, 1994; 54). What the governess also eventually comprehended was that both kids started to go through these changes and that those changes were caused by the influence of the ghosts what it was most impossible to get rid of was the cruel idea that, whatever I had seen, Miles and Flora saw more – things terrible and unguessable and that sprang from dreadful passages of intercourse in the past (ToS, 1994; 75). Moral ageing is evoked with the increase in the corruptive presence of the ghosts. Here moral aging is meant by clear intellectual and sexual growth.
To conclude, we can see that children’s capacity or knowledge is what made them corrupted. In other words due to the fact that their intelligence came from the wraiths, they are enlightened by what they have leaned from the ghosts. Knowing about such things like sex and everything else that is considered more mature they are seen as unchildlike. When the governess becomes aware of the ways that the children manipulate her, in some ways, she considers it as diplomacy rather than deceit. We can speculate that Henry James was invested in bringing out moral corruption and naivety of the Western world at that time.