The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 23 | Summary



The governess says they're not completely alone; they have "the others." Miles says yes, but the others don't count.

Miles turns to the window. The governess observes him feeling "shut in or shut out." He may be looking for a ghost but unable to see one, which comforts her. She asks Miles if he likes his new freedom at Bly. Miles asks her, pointedly, if she likes being at Bly herself.

The governess says she enjoys being with Miles. Though Miles acts flattered, he knows this isn't the real reason she stayed—the governess wants Miles to do something for her, to tell her something. Miles begins to twirl his hat, and the gesture makes the governess horrified for the inevitable pain she's going to cause him. The two are both "fighters not daring to close," but they're fighting for each other's safety.

Miles finally says he'll tell the governess anything she wants to know, but first he has to see Luke. To the governess, this is the most obvious lie yet. Before he leaves, she has a quick question for him—did he take her letter?


Neither Miles nor the governess has deliberately referenced the ghosts yet. Their dialogue, as usual, is ambiguous and filled with double meanings. Miles's phrase "everything depends" signifies the tone of the conversation.

The window provides, for the governess, an insight into Miles's inner state. When she first saw Peter Quint, he was at a window. Like Quint, Miles is "shut in or shut out," framed in the window, and looking for something he can't see clearly. The governess hopes his anxiety means he sees what she sees—a threat to be eliminated.

But his pointed "Do you?" means the governess should still be wary of Miles. Does she like being at Bly, knowing the corruption it contains? Does she like giving Miles his freedom, knowing she'll lose both her job and the respect of the children's uncle? Is she willing to stay and face evil, or does she just pretend to be willing? Miles continues to remind her, "It's you that are alone most." The governess takes this to mean he has the kinship of the ghosts and the support of his sister and uncle, while she does not.

She still tries to position herself as a moral authority. Miles is only a 10-year-old, and she wants to protect him. When she senses he might be afraid of her, she realizes she has some power in the situation. She is about to confront him when he begins to twirl his hat—a gesture reminding her of his humanity, his civility, and the consequences for him if she speaks directly about the ghosts.

When she says, "His lies made up my truth" she knows she can get a clearer picture of the truth from what Miles is not saying than from what he is saying. Earlier she was afraid of what she didn't know. Now she realizes she'll have to confront this fear and bring truth into the light.
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