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Turn of the Screw 20210223

Assignment: Explore The Relationship Between Madness and The
Supernatural in The Turn of the Screw
Date: 21/10/2016
Word Count: 1029
Page Count: 6
Before exploring the relationship, a key point to consider is the novel being told in the
Governess’ perspective. Readers’ views on the other characters e.g. Miles and Flora are
already bias. As the story continues, there is rising doubts on the Governess’ sanity and
hence, the credibility of her supernatural sightings due to several factors- the circumstance
she is in, which explains both her peculiar behavior towards her pupils and the manifestation
of the supernatural. This will be elaborated later, which establishes that the supernatural is a
hallucination due to madness. One can also argue that the supernatural and madness are two
independent elements on its own. This point will also be touched on.
We must first establish if the Governess has gone insane. Her circumstance, does actually
suggest so- her being love-struck at the first meeting of her handsome employer, is the tip of
the iceberg. In understanding that her role of the Governess was a social figure of
righteousness, pureness back in the Victorian Era, it was forbidden to have any sort of
romantic feelings. Hence, we can imagine her natural instinct to repress these feelings.
What’s worse is that she, found out her subconscious sexual desires for him. It started when
she desired to meet him in the garden, it was an inkling of her subconscious fantasy for a
“rendezvous”, which was then disrupted by sighting “Quint”. Meeting Quint can be seen as
the tipping point of her sanity, as given her current circumstance, while she already tries to
repress what she thought was “pure romantic feelings”, which was already socially
disapproving, her shock back to reality made her consciously realise her subconscious sexual
and corrupted “self”. At this instance, she realises what a huge social taboo she was. Being
that James has hinted the Governess was an emotionally weak person at the beginning, it
suggests that her fear of being a huge social taboo could potentially break her sanity. James
has also hinted the Governess’ attempt to repress her feeling, and forebodes her sexual
immorality through her dream of herself “at helm” of a “great drifting ship”. According to
Freud, dream-thoughts are from dream-contents. (Freud, 1913) For the Governess, this means
her subconscious mind state was her trying to desperately control and repress something great
by being “at helm”. Yet she was helpless in it, since the ship was in sea, an imagery of
vastness and boundless. It can be inferred later, that this “thing” is actually her feelings for
her employer. Hence, this means that the event of meeting Quint is this is the starting point
where she slowly descends into madness.
However, it is a mystery if her first sighting of Quint was real or a hallucination. Subsequent
sightings, however, can be justified with studying her behavior from this incident onwards.
After Quint’s first sighting, the Governess displays an over-obsessive behaviour on keeping
watch of the kids. She justifies her careful watch over them as protection against Quint.
However, Freud’s psychoanalysis theory might provide a deeper insight to this behavior.
Applying Freud’s theory, there must be a compromise in the conflict between the Governess’
ID, of sexual frustration, and her superego of following society norms. (Freud, 2016) This is
when her ego plays the compromising role. However, her ego’s ability would depend on her
ability to resolve these internal conflicts, when she was a child. Failure to resolve as a child,
will lead to unhealthy personality traits. (Freud, 2016) The story might have suggested this
occurrence, as she receives troubled letters from her home. Hence, it can be inferred that her
over-obsessive behavior might be her ego’s poor ability to compromise. With her madness,
we can suspect that the subsequent supernatural sightings were just a manifestation for her
obsessive behavior. This can be explained by the speculation that Governess actually sees the
children as the “innocence” she once thought she had, and it is likely so because of her
unusual, constant angelic-like praises she showers over them- “most beautiful”, “placid
heavenly eyes”, despite immediately after their rebellious moments. A sense of denial of
herself can be detected here.
Hence, this explains her over-protectiveness over them, after first sight of Quint, so much that
she “plays heroine” to save the children. As we study the relationship between the children’s
rebellion incidents and the “sinister atmosphere” of the sightings, we also realise that the
intensity of the “sinister atmosphere” increases, after each rebellion incident. For example,
shortly after receiving Miles’ school expel letter, the Governess had a brief encounter with
Quint. Much later when Flora escaped, the Governess had a much clearer account on her
sighting of Miss Jessel across the lake. As the Governess sees the children as her own
“innocence”, their rebellion just reminds her of how her own innocence is actually tainted
and corrupted. The constant reminder of her corruptness brings about two effects on the
Governess- firstly, it keeps bringing to her the fear of being a social taboo, which previously
established, is very challenging against her emotional weak mind. Hence, we can imagine
that the Governess is increasingly descending into madness each time she is reminded of her
tainted self. Secondly, this leads to her stronger attempt to repress her ID, as she chooses to
live in denial of her true self. This, coupled with her increasing madness, it explains the
increasing “sinister” hallucination of the supernatural as the story continues. Which hence
also leads to her “hysterical” behaviour over protecting the children, or rather, her
The story ends off with the events with Miles finally shedding some light about the truth of
him being expelled from school. This also explains the sighting of Quint, as Miles talks about
his, possibly, most rebellion act yet. Most importantly, this is a significant event, as drawn
parallel, it is as though she finally is going to break out of denial and face facts about the
false, painted image of her “innocence”. By this stage, we can also conclude that there have
been many rebellion incidents of the children that have increased the severity of her madness.
Hence, this explain her suffocating Miles and describes his death as a “dispossession”
(James, 2011).
James, H., & Bromwich, D. (2011). The turn of the screw. London: Penguin Books.
Freud, S. (1913). The Interpretation of Dreams.
Boundless Psychology. Boundless, 17 Aug. 2016. Retrieved 22 Oct. 2016
from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychologytextbook/personality-16/psychodynamic-perspectives-on-personality-77/freudianpsychoanalytic-theory-of-personality-304-12839/