The Turn of the Screw


Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

The governess begins to write her letter to the children’s uncle. She cannot write, so she visits Miles in his room, and after waiting outside to see if he is asleep, she hears him cheerfully say he knows she is there. Miles says that he had been lying awake thinking about their “queer business together.” When the governess asks what he’s referring to, Miles says the way she has been taking care of him, and “all the rest.” He wants to go back to school, while the governess wants desperately to help him.
The governess detects yet again a subtext in her conversation with Miles. She seems to think that he may eventually disclose to her what she assumes to be the truth, that is, that he visits with Quint. But he continues only to discuss the school. And yet, is there any subtext there? It isn't clear.
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The two discuss Miles’s school. The governess is concerned for him, and throughout the conversation she says how painful it is to see such an innocent boy suffer the kind of confusion she sees him suffering. She tells him she is concerned about him, and wonders why he never mentions his school. Miles says that he wants the governess to leave him alone, and that he would prefer it if his uncle came to Bly to settle everything.
The governess’s concern for Miles overrides her ability to have an open conversation with him, and it causes Miles to feel overwhelmed, so he asks again to speak with his uncle.
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Because she is so disturbed by Miles’s unwillingness to confide in her, the governess falls to her knees at the boy’s bedside and yells that she wants to “save” Miles. In response to her reaction, Miles shrieks, it is unclear to the governess whether he is laughing or afraid. Suddenly, the candle in Miles’s room goes out, and the governess is horrified, presumably thinking that there is a ghost in the room with them. When she cries out about the candle, Miles says that it was he who blew the light out.
This tense interaction with Miles prefigures what will later transpire between the two—when Miles dies in the governess’s arms—and it is a particularly strong example of the governess’s sometimes overwhelming attitude toward the children as their sole protector. In the governess's mind Miles is here connected to the ghosts, who she thinks initially blew out the candle. Does Mile's admission that he blew it out reveal the nonexistence of the ghosts or his connection with them?
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