The governess, from whose point of view the story is told. Employed to look after his orphaned niece and nephew by a man who makes it clear that he does not wish to be bothered about them, she finds herself engaged in a struggle against evil apparitions for the souls of the children. There has been a good deal of the “Is-Hamlet-mad?” sort of inconclusive speculation as to whether The Turn of the Screw is a real ghost story or a study of a neurotic and frustrated woman. Probably both interpretations are true: the apparitions are real, the children are indeed possessed by evil, and the governess is probably neurotic.
Miles, a little boy, one of the governess’ charges. At first, he seems to be a remarkably good child, but gradually she learns that he has been mysteriously corrupted by his former governess and his uncle’s former valet, whose ghosts maintain their evil control. Miles dies in the governess’ arms during her final struggle to save him from some mysterious evil.
Flora, Miles’s sister and feminine counterpart. The governess finally sends her away to her uncle.
Miss Jessel, the former governess, now dead. She appears frequently to the governess and to the children, who refuse to admit the appearances.
Peter Quint, the uncle’s former valet, now dead. Drunken and vicious, he was also Miss Jessel’s lover. The governess sees his apparition repeatedly.
Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper of the country estate where the story is set. Good-hearted and talkative, she is the source of what little concrete information the governess and the reader get as to the identities and past histories of the evil apparitions. Allied with the governess against the influence of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, she takes charge of Flora when the child is sent to her uncle.