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The Darkness Of Human Nature In Turn Of The Screw

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In The Turn of The Screw, Henry James presents the darkness of human nature through the use of ambiguity; the vagueness of the plot and the unreliability of the narrator which makes it difficult to distinguish between what is good and what is evil, however, the darkness of human nature is definitely present through the characters of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel in their attempts in corrupting the children.

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The governess represents “the good” through the role she plays as a home keeper and protector of the children, she places herself in the role of the traditional heroine and believes that her actions are purely based on the protection of the children. Laden with ambiguity, the novel leaves itself open for interpretation showing the binary opposites between good and evil but also hero and villain. The novel exudes darkness in human nature through the use of the apparitions we see throughout the novella. In the last chapter, Quint’s sudden appearance is most renowned as Miles is the first person who acknowledges Peter Quint, which in turn establishes the apparitions are in fact real, and not any hallucinations or irrational delusions which the governess might have. Robert B. Heilman argues that The Turn of the Screw is a symbolic representation of the conflict between good and evil. Heilman interprets the apparitions of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel as evil forces. He illustrates that the ghosts only appear to the governess because “evil lurks in subtlety before it strikes”. It is the responsibility of the governess to ‘detect and ward off evil.’ She must safeguard the children from the vile ghosts. The governess describes Miles and Flora as beautiful little cherubs whose only fault is their gentleness. Heilman views the children’s beauty as a ‘symbol of the spiritual perfection of which man is capable.’ Heilman illustrates the ghosts’ attempts to reach the children by explaining that evil forces will always try to control and enchant the human soul. Heilman continues to draw from the descriptions of Miles and Flora to support his theories. He points out that the two children are described as having an ‘angelic beauty’ and a ‘positive fragrance of purity’.

The governess portrays them as if they are perfect and beautiful in every way. This repeated vision of beauty, radiance, and innocence parallels with the psychological halo effect which is a cognitive bias or an immediate judgement discrepancy we make on someone based on the impression we already have on them, in other words, because the governess believes the children to be of angelic beauty she immediately assumes that their actions will reflect this and be of the same nature.

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