Summary and Analysis
At a later time, the governess has a talk with the housekeeper, when they agree that the governess couldn't make up the story because she had given such a perfect description, even to the last detail, of the two characters. In the meantime, the governess has devoted herself to her pupils, who have been more than charming — they have been perfect.
The governess cannot forget that Miles was discharged from his school. Therefore, one day she decides to question Mrs. Grose about him. She wonders if he has ever been bad. Mrs. Grose responds that she could not like a boy that did not sometimes show signs of typical badness. Upon being pressed further, she does admit that once Miles was very bad to her. Mrs. Grose had suggested that the young boy was stepping beyond his position by having so much to do with Quint, and the young child reminded her that she was also a servant and no better than Quint. Furthermore, he lied to her about how much time he actually did spend with Peter Quint.
It is brought out that the previous year, young Miles spent an exceptionally large amount of time with Quint, and during this time Flora was alone with Miss Jessel. Thus, the governess thinks it is quite possible that the young children knew what was taking place between Quint and Jessel.
The governess decides to do nothing but wait and see what should happen. She waits a long time before another incident occurs. One night, she wakes up at about one o'clock, and taking her candle, goes to the stairs. Halfway down the staircase, she sees the figure of Peter Quint standing at one of the landings. She faces him directly until he retreats into the darkness. She feels that he knew her just as well as she knew him. After he has disappeared, she returns to her room. She knows that she left the candle burning and now it is out. Immediately she notices that little Flora is at the window. When she questions the child suspiciously, little Flora says that she awakened and felt that the governess had gone and she was watching to see if the governess was outside walking. The young woman wonders if she saw anyone, but little Flora innocently answers that she saw no one. When the governess tries to trap the girl by asking why she pulled the curtain over the bed to conceal her absence, little Flora simply says that she didn't want to frighten the governess. Everything seemed perfectly natural to her. For many days after this, the governess again goes to the staircase, but never again sees Quint. Once on one of her walks, she sees the back of a woman's figure bent over as though in heavy mourning.
One night the governess awakens to find that little Flora is again missing from her bed. This time she notices that the young girl is seemingly talking to someone outside the window. Rather than confront the girl directly, the governess decides to go to Miles' room and then changes her mind because this act could be awkward. Instead, she goes to a room above, where she can view all the actions. As she peers out the window, the thing that most strikes her is the figure of poor little Miles out on the lawn by himself.
In this story dealing with the ghostly element, we are obliged to examine the governess' fortitude. If the ghosts are real, how does she have the courage and perseverance to meet them time and time again. After all, she is a rather helpless female, and even the love that she had earlier felt for the children is not modified by her belief that they are in the confidence of the ghosts. Only a nobler urge to rescue them from the evil influence could justify the governess' actions.
Thus, can we view the entire tale as the conflict between good and evil with the governess representing the forces of good while the so-called ghosts represent something of the evil nature of the world from which the governess wishes to protect the children, while finding it impossible to do so. In this section, the innocence of the children is again emphasized. But then, if the children are actually innocent, what the governess is committing is perhaps the most neurotic and horrible of all perversions. That is, she is compromising the innocence of the children by insisting upon the actual appearance of the ghosts.
Again, the subject of Miles' dismissal from the school comes up. The mistake that the governess made was not in learning the exact nature of his dismissal. Thus she is able to conjecture about the possible reasons. She goes to Mrs. Grose and elicits information about Miles' past behavior. The housekeeper reveals that Miles had once been bad in protecting Peter Quint. But then the realistic reader would expect any boy to prefer the rough companionship of a man to that of acting the role of the gentleman at so young an age.
In these chapters, the reader should note how the governess suggests certain meanings to Mrs. Grose, who then accepts the suggestion as fact. This aspect lends credence to the view that the governess imagines much of what happens and then convinces the simpler Mrs. Grose.
A large portion of these chapters is devoted to relating additional meetings with apparitions. By now, the reader should be aware that the governess meets these figures at a time or place where it would be impossible for anyone else to confirm the phenomena. Thus, there is an ambiguity about each appearance.
The last appearance of Miss Jessel was made for the benefit of little Flora, which is according to the governess. She is convinced that Flora is talking with a strange presence and goes to investigate. During her investigation, she notices young Miles walking out on the lawn. From this observation, she will draw many conclusions, but the reader should be aware that she did not see either Miles or Flora in direct communication with the apparitions.