The Instigator
Pro (for)
4 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

The Ghosts in 'The Turn of the Screw' were Imagined by the Governess.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/18/2016 Category: Arts
Updated: 6 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 349 times Debate No: 88443
Debate Rounds (4)
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Votes (1)




Resolution: The ghosts of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint in the Henry James Novel The Turn of the Screw were not real and instead exist only in the mind of the Governess.

Basically I will argue that the Governess was insane and imagined the ghosts she seemed to think were haunting Bly and my opponent will argue that the ghosts were real and existed independent of the Governess.

- First round acceptance, no new arguments in the last round.
- No trolling
- No forfeiting of rounds
- Please try to reinforce your arguments with textual evidence.
- 72 hours and 8,000 characters.

I realise that finding an opponent for this debate could be difficult so i am open to discussing changes to the resolution and/or switching positions in the comments.
Debate Round No. 1


First of all thank you to cam _25aus for accepting this debate.

As the pro I will be arguing that the most correct interpretation of Henry James’s classic novel The Turn of the Screw is that the ghosts, namely of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, that are thought by the Governess to be haunting the country house Bly are in fact figments of the governesses own imagination and do not exist independent of her in any point throughout the story.

In this round I will present an overall view of my argument by focusing on a closer reading of a single section of the book, with the intention of going into further textual detail in the next round. I would also like to assert that as the various interpretation of this book are still largely contested by critics that my opponent and I have a shared burden of proof. That is, my opponent must also provide evidence that supports his side of the argument, merely refuting my arguments will not be enough.

My first point is a simple one. At no point are the ghosts ever confirmed to exist by another character in the story. There are points where the Governess thinks she has evidence that Miles and Flora (the children over whom she presides) are interacting directly with the ghosts but an objective reading of these scenes fails to turn up any concrete evidence. Take, for example, the climax of chapter XX, when the governess confronts Flora directly about the existence of Miss Jessel. The governess describes how the ghost is now visible in plain sight for all to see, “Miss Jessel stood before us on the opposite bank exactly as she stood the other time” (James, 101) and describes a “thrill of joy at having brought on a proof” (101). Here she sees the ghost standing before the characters in brought daylight for all to see and she feels both relieved and validated, “she was there, so I was neither cruel nor mad”.

This moment of vindication is however abruptly ruined when the Governess’ companion, the housekeeper Mrs. Grose remarks, “where on earth do you see anything” (102), clearly unable to see the ghost that according to the Governess is “as big as a blazing fire” (102) and blatantly visible. Mrs. Grose however, sees nothing and can only leap to the aid young Flora, comforting here and separating her away from a Governess she now clearly believes to be mad, “She’s not there, little lady, and nobody’s there – and you never see nothing my sweet” (103).

But how can this be the case, we are explicitly told throughout the story that the Governess sees ghosts and she probably does. But that does not mean they are real, we must consider that the Governess is an unreliable narrator. As she is the only person through whose eyes the story is told we get no other view on matters but hers and if this view is the view of someone who is hallucinating or projecting ghosts on to the real world, if our narrator thinks she sees a ghost we are told that she sees a ghost, but objectively there is no way to verify this as a reader and we can only seek to extrapolate the true course of events by objectively looking at the information provided.

To continue with the scene mentioned above, the Governess confronting Flora by the lake, we are told that Flora’s reaction to the accusation that she is conspiring with Miss Jessel is to “not even feign to glance in the direction” of the ghost indicated by the Governess (and why should she if there is nothing there?) and instead turn to her with “an expression of hard still gravity, an expression absolutely new and unprecedented and that appeared to read and accuse and judge me” (102) before yelling “I see nobody. I see nothing. I thin you’re cruel. I don’t like you!” (103). Of course, from her viewpoint the governess asserts to the reader that this is all just further evidence of Flora having been corrupted by the ghost. However an objecting reading of this interaction can easily exonerate Flora of any guilt at all. A young child who has been yelled at, accused of outlandish things like seeing ghosts and called “you little unhappy thing” is bound to react with fear and treat her attacker wearily. Hiding her face in the skirts of Mrs. Grose is not an attempt to hide her guilt, it is a natural reaction to protect against a woman who is crazily attacking her.

In this scene we are presented with the viewpoints of the governess and so are told that Flora is some evil, corrupted child but the opposite is in fact true and it is the mind of the governess that is corrupted, providing the reader with a view of ghosts that no other character can see and justifications that an objective reading reveals to be ridiculous.


James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. London: Penguin Classics, 2011. Print.

(p.s. sorry for the bad grammar, I might still be a little drunk)



how can the governess imagine somethign in a movie or book

ghosts are real, so not imagined
Debate Round No. 2


"how can the governess imagine somethign [sic] in a movie or book"

Your claims make no sense.

The Governess, as a fictional charater, will think whatever the author wants her to think. Many writers over the coarse of history have taken advantage of the fact that their audience perceives the story only through the eyes of an unreliable narrator and as such can have no idea what is objectively taking place in the story. Fight Club is perhaps one of the most famous examples of this.

This is what I believe occurs in The Turn of the Screw. As we are told only the version of the story the governess herself remembers, we are told that the ghosts were real, because that is what the governess thought. However, as in the scenes I described above, there is actually no other proof of this.

Furthermore the governess' own mental state has been called in to question by many critics and it is often asserted that she was mentally unstable and sexually repressed. Indeed the control she begins to exhibit over the children in many instances feels unnatural and overbearing. She also fantasises over the childrens uncle, becoming noticeably preoccupied with the hope that he will return to the house to sweep her off her feet.

Therefore it is fully possible that she, as a finctional character imagines the hauntings that take place at Bly.



cam_25aus forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


As this is the last round and my opponent has yet to offer any meaningful argument the debate is won.

Vote Pro


cam_25aus forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
No comments have been posted on this debate.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by tejretics 6 months ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: (1) Arguments. There is no reasonable world in which Con won this debate. Con's meager attempt at making an argument was absolutely shot down by Pro. The topic is very clear and arguments should be relevant to the topic at hand. The resolution said that, in the world of "The Turn of the Screw," the ghosts were imagined. Pro had the BOP to demonstrate the resolution to be most likely true. Pro made a convincing argument to uphold their BOP, by arguing that the existence of ghosts isn't affirmed in the story, and that there were reports of the governess being "mad." Pro posits imagination, therefore, to be the best explanation. The entirety of Pro's case is dropped by Con, who merely argues that "ghosts are real." Con doesn't explain how the reality of ghosts entails that they are *never* imagined. Furthermore, Pro shows that the reality of ghosts is expressed in the book only from the governess's point of view, thus refuting Con's claim. Pro wins. (2) Conduct. Con forfeited two rounds.