Madness in Literature Turn of the Screw: Did Miles die? 2/3/14 In the final and most climactic scene in the novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, the narrative ends abruptly with the death of little Miles. The novella sets the stage during Victorian England and tells the story from the perspective of the Governess, an impressionable, young and sexually inexperienced woman who is hired by the charming uncle of two young children Flora and Miles, on his estate, Fly.
From the moment she meets the children, she falls into a deep admiration of their angelic qualities. She makes it her mission to preserve their “greater sweetness of innocence” by taking full responsibility of them. The Governess particularly takes a liking to the little Miles who she describes as with an ” indescribable little air of knowing nothing in the world but love” (lames, Henry. The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels. Middlesex, England. Signet Classic, 1995. Peg 301), yet intensely mysterious and seemingly precocious for his tender age.
One day while she Is fantasizing about the children and the uncle, she encounters the ghost of Peter Quinn, who she soon learns had a questionable, even sexual relationship with Males before he died. The Governess becomes obsessed with the Idea of protecting the children’s, especially Miles’ supposed Innocence. In the end, It Is her desperate need to have control over the situation by keeping Males from corruption, that leads her to killing him. A key element to remember Is the Governess’ Impressionability and sexual Inexperience.
During a time of female sexual repression, the Governess lacks any sort of sexual knowledge, yet she often expresses emotions that one would describe as physical attraction or desire. This Is apparent when she first meets the uncle, and “for a moment, disbursed, delighted, he held her hand, thanking her… Just with the simple touch of a man, something she had never experienced before, “she already felt rewarded” . It only took one act of barely suggestive human contact, that drove her to feel a necessity to “… [glove] pleasure – If he ever thought of It! (302) . Whatever the pleasure Is she Is seeking to give the uncle, shows that she Is devoutly committed to gaining male approval, and will go to any means In order to receive and protect that. Although the act Is never mentioned In the novel, the corruption that the Governess Is often referring to seems to be a euphemism for the unknown sexual acts. The by it. This is apparent by her curiosity about the nature of the relationship between Miles and Peter Quinn. She learns that the two were “together quite as if Quinn were his tutor – and a very grand one” (329).
Miles was Squint’s “own fancy… To play with him… To spoil him… [he] was much too free,” and upon further inquisition she is told that Quinn was “too free with everyone! ” (315-316). The Governess is left to fear that Peter Quinn, has already contaminated little Miles and is a threat to his purity. The governess’s fears exclude any sort of physical threat the ghosts may pose on the hillier, but focus primarily on her fear of corruption, which seems to predominantly mean an exposure to or knowledge of sex.
Her fear of corruption stems from her own lack of knowledge, but also by the threat that allowing the children to be corrupted would mean that she would have failed her responsibility to protect and take care of them. Although her own experience with sex is non existent, she shares several moments with Miles that both fascinate her and puzzle her. The Governess is intrigued by Miles, she describes him to be one of the most beautiful things she has ever seen. Miles, although only near ten, is introduced primarily through his act of corruption which leads him to be expelled from school.
It is a mystery until the end as to what his actual actions were, but the nature of his expulsion seems evident in the precocity he exudes to the Governess. She is almost instantly “under his spell” and “dazzled by his loveliness” (301) and the two share moments of clear sexual tension. In one moment after they share a kiss, the Governess throws herself onto Miles who is lying down in bed and devotes herself to his protection. She professes that she wants to help him and that she would “rather die than… O him wrong” and that “even if [she] should go too far, [she] Just wants to save [him]! ” (365).
Similar to her experience with the uncle, once the two actually engage in something like a kiss, the Governess is sure that she would do anything for Miles. However, the kiss is an act of sexual desire. This seems to frighten the Governess leading her to believe that even if she should go “too far”, she would do anything to save him and preserve his innocence. In the end, the Governess does save Miles, or at least she believes she does. As it is revealed that Miles was expelled from school for saying things perhaps Peter Quinn aught him to the boys he “liked”, the Governess questions how innocent Miles still is.
She all off sudden has the “feeling that [she] had nothing now there to keep him from” (393) . Having acted on her own sexual desires in their intimate moments, she realizes that she has failed her one mission which was to protect him from corruption. The only way to truly save him now is to kill him, to end his life. The only way she can regain control of the situation and right his wrong, is to prevent any future corruption and end his beautiful and angelic life, right there.