Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Governess is "Pulling a Hamlet"

I guess the big concern here in the text is whether or not the governess is really seeing ghosts or not. Is it her imagination and thus is just going crazy? Or are the ghosts really appearing to her? This greatly reminds me of Hamlet, which I'm sure almost everyone has read. Even the greatest literary analysts cannot completely prove whether Hamlet was losing his mind or not. Were the ghosts in Hamlet also real? And the fact that the governess wrote the story which we are reading really does not help us reach a conclusion. A crazy person doesn't necessarily know he or she is going crazy and the governess does not seem to indicate whether she is going mad. The story is biased and we do not have a clear and objective view.

I believe that she losing her sanity. The governess, like Hamlet, sets out to discover the truth. She seems to be rational and logical in her observations. But as we continue through to the text, her observations and claims seem to lose validity. I believe that Hamlet was going crazy, therefore the governess doesn't seem to be any different. I'm just comparing literature here and haven't been able to take evidence directly from the text because the fact that the story is written by her results in us, as readers, running circles. It's open to interpretation.

I'd also like to comment that idea of evil children used for "scary horror stories" is brilliant. Whoever started it has taken something we trust and see as innocent and goodness and has twisted it into evil. One of the scariest things is to find out the thing you trust and know is really evil. Movies like the Omen, the Orphan, and the Orphanage uses little children with evil inside of them. That's scary. Miles and Flora are scary to the readers because they are seen as pure and adorable in the beginning of the text. When we see that they might be communicating with ghosts and manipulating the governess, we are disturbed. Henry James seems to love being vague and cloudy and this is what makes his ghost story disturbing and scary.


  1. I'm actually one of the few people who hasn't read Hamlet so I can't really relate there but I really agree with the idea in your post. Because the sanity of the person is in question and they are the only view on the story we have it is not objective at all. Therefore how can evidence from the text be used to support or refute the question of the person's sanity. Anyhow that is what I got out of your post. See you tomorrow

  2. I don't really think that Hamlet and the governess are very comparable in the crazy department. Though they both see ghosts, in Hamlet's case, he isn't the only one who sees it. The night guards were the first ones to actually see the ghost. In The Turn of the Screw, the governess is the only one who sees the ghosts. Also, the governess is very quick to jump to conclusions, while Hamlet was hesitant in believing the ghost. He even wrote a whole play to make sure what the ghost was saying was true.
    I totally agree with you that the idea of evil children in "scary horror stories" is, in fact, brilliant. While I was reading the story I was totally creeped out and definitely thought of the Orphan.

  3. I also don't really see the direct comparison between Hamlet and the governess in regards to their sanity. One of the only similarities between Hamlet and The Turn of the Screw is the fact that the main character sees (or thinks they see) a ghost. As G.E.Tang pointed out, Hamlet is not the only one who sees the ghost. The two guards see him first and then the guards AND Hamlet see the ghost later. The fact that three different people see the same ghost, doing the same thing, at the same time, to me, discredits the idea that Hamlet is "crazy", she However in the case of the governess, she is the only one throughout the entire novel that actually sees the ghosts, that we know of, there is always that idea that the other characters were plotting against her. I also want to point out that in Hamlet, Hamlet actually says (and forgive me for not knowing the exact page) that he is going crazy which is probably the most sane thing he could say because those that are truley crazy can't acknowledge their insanity because they think it is normal. whereas those that are sane and think their going crazy are able to acknowlege the difference between normalcy and insanity.

    I definitely agree with the creepiness of evil children though. I couldn't read this book at night because creepy children seem just a bit creepier at night. =]

  4. I don't remember reading Hamlet, and if I did, it was way back in 9th or 10th grade, but I can comment on the "evil children" thing. I do think that part of the reason the kids seem so evil is that they initially seem innocent, but I what I found disturbing was not that the children were talking to ghosts (I shall assume that the ghosts are, in fact, real here, and that the children had contact with them), but the manner in which they handled theselves.

    They act much more composed than I think that 10 and 8 year olds that can converse with ghosts should. A normal 10 year old, in my opinion, would either be scared out of their wits to have seen a ghost, or would be really proud about it and boast about it. The fact that they quietly hide their encounters away seems to me to imply that they know what they are doing is wrong, and they like doing it.

    Why this is different than a kid hiding the fact that they did something like break a lamp, or steal some cool whip, I'm not quite sure. Maybe it's just the magnitude of the action they are hiding. But I think it also has a lot to do with the motive. A normal kid hides the fact that they did something wrong to avoid punishment. Miles and Flora hide the fact that they can see ghosts either to drive the governess mad, or so that they can continue to consort with the ghosts.

  5. I didn't expect a full-blown discussion of Hamlet to arise! Let's just be clear -- seeing ghosts is the main reason we're calling the governess insane (right?), but that's not the reason Hamlet gets called insane. The ghost is pretty much established fact in the play. (Whether the ghost is really the ghost of his father or an evil spirit is another question.) Hamlet is called insane because of erratic behavior like leaping into Ophelia's grave.

    I eagerly await comparisons between The Turn of the Screw and The Omnivore's Dilemma!

  6. If we were to take the work very literally, then it's obvious that the governess is insane because there are no such things as ghosts. However, we can't be certain if, in the world created by James, ghosts are real, or even if the story the governess wrote is considered to be true by the governess herself. It's not unusual today to claim that one has participated in the events of a ghost story (only to admit lack of involvement upon further questioning) so it wouldn't be surprising if the governess had made everything up.

  7. I don't think that the novel was meant to be taken literally with regard to the ghosts. I think Henry James was not trying to question whether ghosts actually existed but whether the governess was in fact "crazy" for seeing something that no one else could. Like in today's times, if you were to claim to see something that other people could not, no matter what the object was, you would most likely be deemed "crazy." I believe he made use of the ghosts to further promote the idea of her being "crazy" and to make for a good, chilling ghost story.


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