Summary and Analysis
After Flora is gone, Miles joins the governess, and they talk about how they are alone. The governess explains that she stayed to be with and help Miles. She reminds him that she is willing to do anything for him, and he promises that he will tell her anything she wants to know. First, she asks him if he took the letter she had written to his uncle. The boy readily admits that he took it and opened it in order to see what she had written about him. He further admits that he found out nothing and burned the letter.
The governess asks him if he stole letters at his school or did he take other things. Miles explains that he said certain bad things to his friends, who must have said the same things to other friends until it all got back to the masters. Just as the governess is about to insist on knowing what he said, she sees the apparition of Peter Quint at the window. She hears Miles ask if it is Miss Jessel, but she forces him to admit that it is Peter Quint who is at the window. He turns suddenly around to look and falls in her arms. The governess clutches him, but instead of a triumph, she discovers that she is holding Miles' dead body.
Somewhere little Miles had learned some naughty or evil words. It is quite possible that he had earlier learned them from his association with Peter Quint. He repeated these words at school and when others in turn repeated them, little Miles was expelled from school. Furthermore, this accounts for little Flora's learning the awful words she used to describe the governess. During this interview with Miles, the governess thinks that she sees Peter Quint at the window. Miles' first question is to ask if she sees Miss Jessel. This question seems to attest to his innocence. In other words, he must have learned from Flora (even though it is thought by Mrs. Grose that the brother and sister had not seen each other) that the governess thinks she had seen Miss Jessel. Otherwise, the young boy would not have immediately thought that the apparition seen by the governess was Miss Jessel. It is upon the mention that the apparition is a male that the young Miles associates it with Peter Quint. But whereas the fright of a ghost had caused little Flora to become ill, it is the instrument of little Miles' death.
The last section lends great support to regarding the story as a psychological study of the governess' mind. If the ghost were real or if little Miles were in communication with the ghost, the only way to account for his death is to admit that the ghosts and their evil ways have conquered the young boy. But it seems more reasonable to assume that the ghost was visible only to the governess, and through her psychotic imagination, she simply frightened the young boy to death.