Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Grose accepted what the governess had to say about the appearance of the stranger without questioning anything. The governess knows what she herself is capable of to shelter her pupils, and she tells the housekeeper that the apparition was looking for little Miles. She cannot explain how she knows this, but she is sure of it. She suddenly remembers that neither of the pupils has even mentioned Peter Quint's name to her. Mrs. Grose states that Quint often took great liberties with the child. In fact, she adds, he was too free with everyone. The governess then wants to know if everyone knew that Quint was admittedly bad. Mrs. Grose knew about him, but the master suspected nothing; and she never presumed to inform, since the master didn't take well to people who bore tales and bothered him. And actually, she was afraid of what Peter Quint could do. The governess is shocked because she thinks that one would be more afraid of what effect this evil person might have on the innocent life of the young boy than of what the master or Quint would do.
During the next week, Mrs. Grose and the governess talk incessantly of the appearance of this sinister figure. The governess learns that he had fallen on ice while coming home drunk from a tavern and was later found dead. Through it all, the governess discovers that she has more strength than ever and is more determined to protect her pupils from any danger.
Soon after, the governess and little Flora are out by the lake when a figure appears standing on the opposite side, observing them. The governess watches to see if little Flora will take notice of the figure. She is certain that the girl sees it and only pretends to be oblivious to it.
As soon as possible, the governess finds Mrs. Grose and explains that the children know of the presence of these other beings. Mrs. Grose is horrified and wants to know why the governess has come to such a conclusion. The governess explains that she was with Flora on the bank when Miss Jessel, Flora's previous governess, who died last year, appeared on the other side. Mrs. Grose is horrified and can't believe it. She wants to know how the governess was able to determine that it was Miss Jessel. The governess explains that by the way Miss Jessel looked so intently at little Flora and by the grand beauty and lady-like presence but at the same time an infamous quality that exuded from her. Then Mrs. Grose admits that Miss Jessel, in spite of her position, was familiar with Peter Quint. It is suggested that when she left her position, she couldn't return, but Mrs. Grose doesn't know exactly what Miss Jessel died of.
Suddenly, the governess realizes that she can't shield or protect the young children because she fears that they are already lost.
In the discussion with Mrs. Grose, the governess discovers that the housekeeper knew Peter Quint was evil, but she was afraid to tell the master because he did not like to be bothered by details and complaints and he was impatient with people who bore tales against their fellow workers. Consequently, the governess is again reminded that she is in complete charge of her pupils and will not be able to go to the master with any complaint.
With the appearance of Miss Jessel, James is rounding out his story. The male ghost appears for the boy, and the female apparently returns for the young girl. The governess finds herself trapped in the middle.
We should be aware in this section that not as much credence is given to the appearance of Miss Jessel. There is even a bit of doubt in the mind of good Mrs. Grose. It is almost as though the governess' mind has brooded on the subject until she creates the appearance of Miss Jessel. There is not the direct description that will allow Mrs. Grose to positively identify the former governess, and the details given could apply to almost any governess.
Another level of meaning is added here. The governess thinks that the apparitions are returning to capture or corrupt the children. As long as she thinks this, then she is ready to fight diligently in order to protect the children. Her fears are made more real when she learns that both Peter Quint and Miss Jessel were immoral people. She is already afraid that the mere presence of these people in real life might have had a corrupting influence on the children. Thus, in their spectral appearance, they want to continue the corruption began in life.
The most horrifying thing for the governess is the conviction that the children know of the presence of the ghosts and pretend not to know it. Here we must begin to wonder if the governess is not letting her imagination carry her away. Even if the ghosts do appear, it is quite plausible that little Flora did not notice the figure, which was, indeed, at some distance. But if the ghosts are real, then we must admire the governess, who is determined to protect her wards against the evil influence.