The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-24

Chapter XXI


Mrs. Grose comes to the governess's room while she is still in bed the next morning and tells her that Flora is feverish and ill and has been frightened all night of seeing the governess. The governess wants to know if she still denies seeing Miss Jessel, and Mrs. Grose says she can't push her on it. She agrees with the governess, though, that Flora has a "grand manner" about not wanting to speak to the governess again. Mrs. Grose is under the impression that Flora did not see anyone at the lake the day before.

The governess says that Flora and Miles have worked the situation to their advantage, and that Flora will try to get her uncle to dismiss her from her position as governess. She orders Mrs. Grose to leave and take Flora straight to the uncle and says that she is confident that Mrs. Grose's loyalty and Miles's - which she plans to gain while alone with him - will protect her. She does not want Miles and Flora to see each other alone before Mrs. Grose and Flora leave, and the housekeeper assures her that so far, that has not occurred.

The events of the previous evening, when Miles sat with her for two hours as if he wanted to confess, have made the governess believe that he is not lost to her. With a day or two more, she hopes to have him on her side - and if she doesn't, at least Mrs. Grose will be able to persuade the master to trust her. The housekeeper, who agrees to go to town with Flora immediately, says that she believes the governess because of the "appalling" things Flora has said in the past day - using horrible language that Mrs. Grose has heard before - saying things not about Miss Jessel but about the governess herself.

When the governess reminds Mrs. Grose that the master will have received her letter by the time she and Flora arrive, the housekeeper informs her that when she returned the previous evening, the letter was gone and when asked, Luke said he had never seen it. Miles must have taken it, Mrs. Grose says, and furthermore, she now believes he was expelled from school for stealing letters. The governess believes his offense was far worse, but suggests that he will find little useful information in the letter. At least, the offense provides Miles with an opportunity for a confession - after which, the governess believes, he will be saved, and so will she.


Flora's illness in this section suggests that the governess, and not she, is in the wrong. If Flora had, in reality, been communing with evil spirits for months, the previous day's confrontation with the governess and appearance of Miss Jessel should not have had so violent an effect upon her. Her fever and her agitation over the thought of seeing the governess again suggest that the governess's accusations have shocked and upset the innocent little girl. Far from saving her, the governess has done just the opposite.

The governess's agitation at hearing about Flora's accusations seem to illustrate her guilt. She expects that Flora will be crying about - or at least mentioning - Miss Jessel, but she has only insulted and asked not to see the governess. In this manner, the governess has unintentionally taken on Miss Jessel's role. The horrible, unspeakable language Mrs. Grose says Flora uses condemns the governess as the very Victorian whore archetype she subconsciously fears.

We must note that though earlier the governess had spoken of her intention of saving the children - even at risk of her own life - here her own concerns take priority. She is worried about Flora not because the child is ill or because she is controlled by an evil spirit but because she believes that Flora, made clever as an old woman by Miss Jessel, will be able to convince the uncle to fire her. Likewise, her reason for wanting to remain at Bly with Miles stems from her selfish desire to gain his trust and support by the time the uncle arrives - so that he and Mrs. Grose can argue in her favor. This decision to stay, made for these selfish reasons, will have terrible consequences which the governess would have avoided had she allowed Miles to leave with Mrs. Grose and Flora. Her concern throughout this chapter on her employer's opinion of her remind us that her need for him to like her - which she now admits he does not show by ignoring her - has been at the root of her actions toward the children from the start of the book.

Again, we can see the contrast between Mrs. Grose and the governess's understanding of "bad" behavior. Mrs. Grose says that she believes the governess because Flora uses "appalling languageŠreally shocking" that she herself has heard before - presumably from Miss Jessel. Flora may, however, have learned this language from Miss Jessel while she was alive or even from her brother, who was away at a boys school, and certainly, her use of such language while feverish and upset does not prove her to be evil. Similarly, Mrs. Grose's conclusion that Miles was dismissed from school for stealing letters - again, believable "bad" behavior for a child - is seen as unlikely by the governess, who suspects Miles of greater evil, though she, unlike Mrs. Grose, has no proof.

At this point, the governess has so intertwined the fates of the children's souls with her own professional fate that she cannot distinguish between actions benefiting them and those benefiting herself. She says she wants to save Miles - save his soul - but doing so has only become a means to an end of saving her job.

Chapter XXII


Once Mrs. Grose leaves, the governess realizes how alone she is. She is very worried and nervous. The servants, because of Mrs. Grose and Flora's quick departure, know that something is wrong, and the governess must act very "grand," overseeing the estate, to keep from breaking down in front of the servants.

She realizes that the servants must see, too, the change in her power over Miles. Since the previous afternoon, he has ceased to seek her permission or tell her where he is going. From the servants, she learns that he ate breakfast with Mrs. Grose and Flora and then went out for a walk.

That evening, they eat dinner in the formal dining room, the same room where the governess saw Quint through the window. The governess realizes it will take all the efforts of her will and "another turn of the screw of human virtue" to persevere in this unnatural situation. Once the servants leave, Miles asks the governess about Flora's sudden illness. The governess only tells him that "Bly didn't agree with her" and that she could see the illness coming. When he wonders why she didn't send her away earlier, the governess says she will get better as a result of the journey away from Bly.

The meal finishes in silence. The governess compares the awkwardness, as the maid clears up the plates, to a newly married couple feeling shy in the presence of a waiter. Once the maid leaves, Miles stands up and announces that they are alone.


The governess's uncertainty, after the departure of Mrs. Grose, telegraphs the coming climax of the story. Despite her previous certainty in sending Mrs. Grose away and planning to "save" Miles, she finds it difficult to begin - and in fact wastes an entire day, allowing Miles to wander around the grounds, before seeking him out. The difficulty she finds in confronting Miles could come from the great challenge she recognizes she faces in wresting the boy away from Quint's influence or it could come from her own uncertainty that she is doing the right thing. Her confrontation of Flora left the child sick and "lost" to her.

One interesting thing to note in this chapter is the governess's attitude toward the servants, whom she refuses to recognize as people. The only way she can keep herself together in front of them is to act "very grand and very dry," walking around the house and grounds as if she owns them and reminding herself of her responsibilities. This "high state" she "cultivates[s]" is very similar to her previous fantasies of her employer falling in love with her and presumably making her mistress of the house - the very fantasies which preceded her first vision of Quint. Rather than enlist the servants help in dealing with Miles, she attempts to conceal the situation from them, even though she knows they can tell that something is wrong. Not only does this show the governess's attitude of superiority towards the servants - an attitude that made Miles's relationship with Quint seem so wrong to her - but it also illustrates her irresponsibility in desiring to be the savior of Miles.

Miles's actions in this chapter do not bespeak evil but instead show his confusion over the governess's behavior. She sees the fact that they do not have lessons that day as a mutual recognition of their changed relationship. The governess has barely seen or spoken to him the previous evening or that morning, and he may simply have decided to amuse himself until she resumed her normal behavior. As she did with Flora, she assumes that Miles possesses adult intelligence. If he, in fact, is simply an innocent child, her vague answers to his questions about Flora's illness and confusing and hurtful.

Likewise, the governess's strange attitude toward Miles, colored by her obsession with sexual matters, is revealed in her comparison of them to a newlywed couple. Her decision to treat Miles as an equal seems to encompass more than his intelligence - and this may also be a dangerous effect of her neurosis.

Chapter XXIII


The governess and Miles speak awkwardly about the servants. The governess says they are not quite alone, and Miles wonders how much the servants count, concluding that everything depends. He stands near the window, facing outside, as the governess takes a seat on the couch readying herself for some terror. Gradually, she realizes that Miles must be looking for something he cannot see - he must somehow be barred from seeing Quint as she has been in the past - and she feels hopeful.

Finally, Miles turns around and says that Bly agrees with him. They discuss how he has seen so much of it, walking around, during the past few days, and he asks if she likes it and if she minds being so alone. She tells him that she does it for his company and reminds him that she said she would do anything for him.

Miles thinks she asked him that to get him to tell her something - presumably what he did at school - and the governess suggests he tell her now. Miles suddenly becomes uneasy and wants to leave, and the governess is struck with how terrible a thing she is doing by bringing up this horrible subject with the child. Looking back, it seems even worse.

After a moment, Miles says he will tell her everything - or anything - she wants but he wants to see Luke first. The governess feels ashamed for making him give this false excuse and as he is about to leave she off-handedly asks if he took her letter the previous day.


The governess and Miles's discussion about the servants seems like idle chatter, but it helps to illuminate the class issues which underscore the governess's worldview and particularly her view of Quint and Miss Jessel. "They don't count much, do they?" Miles asks, about the servants - and though the governess does not give him a straight answer, her opinion is clear. Servants don't count; hence, she is alone with Miles. This attitude toward servants, of course, is what made Miles's friendship with Quint and Miss Jessel's romance with Quint seem so obscene to her.

It is significant, then, that Miles attempts to go to the servant Luke to escape the governess's inquiries at the end of the chapter. For Miles, servants, like Luke, are people. For the governess, on the other hand, they are tantamount to ghosts.

Here, the governess's hindsight allows us to see the coming climax of the story and prepares the reader for "the anguish that was to come." She comes close to admitting her culpability in what is about to happen, calling her interrogation "an act of violence" and speaking of "a perverse horror of what I was doing." Even she is ashamed when Miles is frightened enough to try to find an excuse to get away from her. Likewise, his promise to tell her "anything you like" sounds less like the beginning of a confession and more like the desperate plea of someone threatened with torture.

In her conversation with Miles about the servants, the governess suggests that "It all depends on what you call Œmuch,'" and Miles rejoins, "everything depends." This attitude towards the uncertainty of language reminds the reader of the different meanings the governess and Miles may each attribute to the vague conversation that follows. It is not even clear what the governess is asking Miles to confess - nor is it clear whether he plans to tell her the truth or simply anything to make her stop.

Chapter XXIV


The governess suddenly notices Peter Quint standing outside the window. She grasps Miles and holds him with his back to the window. Immediately, the governess decides she can and will fight with Quint for Miles's soul and looks at the boy who now has sweat on his forehead.

Miles says that he took the letter, and the governess embraces him, feeling his heart beat, while watching Quint outside the window. The boy is drenched in sweat. She asks Miles why he took the letter, and he says he wanted to know what she had said about him. Feeling triumphant, she proclaims that he found "nothing!" and he quietly agrees and tells her he has burnt it.

The governess then asks if Miles stole things at school, and he is surprised that she knows he wasn't allowed to go back. She says she knows "everything" and asks what he did. Miles says he "said things" but when she asks, he cannot remember to whom. She feels as if she has won but "blind with victory" persists in asking to whom. He says only to a few people, who he liked, and suddenly the governess worries if he is innocent and lets him go, the window now empty.

Nonetheless, the governess persists in asking, and Miles tells her that the boys he told must have repeated the things to people they liked and that the masters caught wind of it - but that the "things" were too bad to write in a letter. The governess demands to know what he said.

Just then, Miles moves, and Quint appears again behind the window. The governess screams "No more!" at him and Miles asks if "she" is here - which the governess takes to mean Miss Jessel. She screams that its not but tells him "it's at the window." Miles does not seem to see anything and finally asks if it's "he" - "Peter Quint - you devil," he says when she asks who he means, and screams "Where?" The governess says it no longer matters - she has Miles and Quint has lost him.

Miles jerks around and she catches him as he falls and cries out. She holds him for a minute and realizes that they are alone and Miles heart has stopped.


Miles death at the end of the novel has been met with many interpretations. Many believe that the governess simply frightened him to death. Others suggestions range from shock at the forced recognition of Quint's evil, smothering in the governess's grasp, and exorcism of the spirit possessing him, to homosexual panic, the governess' invasion of another human heart, and loss of erotic freedom. One critic has even suggested that Douglas, who introduces the governess's manuscript in the prologue, is actually Miles and that Miles therefore did not die in the final scene of the book.

All the foreshadowing in the novel culminates in this scene in which we get a reason for Miles's dismissal from school. Miles "said things" - presumably used dirty language - and passed those bad words onto his friends who said them too. Miles, therefore, was "bad," in Mrs. Grose's sense of the word, but did not do anything other little boys were not capable of doing. Miles's "confession" suggests that Flora may have learned the "appalling language" she used in the previous chapter from him, not from the ghost of Miss Jessel.

From the governess's reaction to Miles's confession, it is clear that this is not what she expected and her own statements suggest that she is wrong in proceeding in her assumptions and interrogation. "It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent what then on earth was I?" The governess has just been provided with an adequate explanation for Miles's expulsion, yet she cannot stop herself in proceeding with the "confession" she seeks, even when it appears there are not questions left to ask.

The physical state of Miles throughout this scene suggests to the reader that the governess's behavior is having a dangerous effect on the boy. The sweating, hard breathing, and weakness she describes begin even before she tells the boy that Quint is present. And the governess's physical actions during this scene border on the violent - grasping and holding the boy and even shaking him.

Much interpretation of this scene hinges on the meaning of Miles's words when he says "you devil." Does he refer to Peter Quint or to the governess? If to Peter Quint, he may be denying the evil spirit which till now has controlled him, but if to the governess, his words may illustrate the evil effects of her shrieking demands that he recognize a dead man who is not there.

Similarly, a thread of uncontrollably pride on the part of the governess runs through this final scene. Several times, when she has elicited answers from Miles, she feels controlled by a sense of victory and unadvisedly plunges ahead with more questions. It is frightening to think that, for her, Miles's death represents a sort of victory. At last she can possess him - if in body only - and Quint has lost him. The governess's desire to know and control "everything," however, has led to Miles's death - and her knowledge and possession, therefore, of nothing.