The Turn of the Screw: Novel Summary: Chapter 23 – 24

Chapter 23
The governess and Miles agree that they are alone, except for “the others.” The governess asks him whether he likes Bly, now that he has had the freedom of it for a day. Miles replies by asking whether she likes it. She says that she enjoys his company and stays on only for that reason. She emphasizes that there is nothing she would not do for him. She also admits under his questioning that she stays only to find out what he has on his mind. He says he will tell her everything but not now.
The governess responds by asking Miles about the letter she had written to his uncle that disappeared from the front table. Did he take it?
Chapter 24
She realizes at this moment that Quint is standing outside the window, and she wants to keep Miles from noticing him. Miles admits he took the letter and opened it to see what she had written about him. He admits that he has burned the letter. Then, she asks him about what happened at school. Did he take letters or other things there? He is appalled to learn that she knows he was dismissed from school. He denies ever stealing anything. He does admit, however, that he “said things,” inappropriate things to the boys that he liked. He refuses to repeat the things he said because they are too bad. She is happy because she has gotten him to admit his crime. He asks if Miss Jessel is in the window, and when she says it is Quint, he turns around to look. But, the ghost has disappeared. Miles falls into her arms, dead.
Chapters 23- 24, Analysis
This final section is very dramatic. The governess wants Miles to confess, because she wants him to be good. When Quint appears in the window, Miles is physically between the two of them. The governess wants Miles to choose her, the good, over Quint, who to her represents the evil. When he does choose her and confess to her, she feels she has won over the evil in his nature. His death, she believes, is because he has given up the evil that possessed him.
Whether Miles really does have evil in him or the evil is just the governesss imagination is open to interpretation. He certainly said something evil at school. The implication is that he said something sexual, possibly even something homosexual, in nature. It is probable that Quint taught him whatever he said. However, the governesss belief in ghosts, her preoccupation with class and rank, and her focus on finding evil in the children certainly allows her imagination to take whatever is real in the child and turn it into a mysterious tale of the diabolical. She believes in pure good and pure evil, and if the beautiful children are not pure good, they must be under the influence of pure evil. The desire to control them completely lets her get carried away with the idea that they are under the control of someone else. Miless total fear that the ghosts might be there demonstrates that he only knows of the ghosts through her preoccupation, which he presumably learned about from his sister after the governess confronted her.
Miless death can be read allegorically, as the pure child dying after confessing sins. Or, it could simply be read as him dying from fright and the exhaustion of the confrontation. The governess certainly believes she has saved him from his own evil, so she thinks the possession leaving him is what kills him.