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Miles might be either a cunning and deceitful plaything
of ghosts or merely an innocent, unusually well-mannered young boy.
The governess repeatedly changes her mind on the matter, leaving
Miles’s true character in question. When the governess first meets
Miles, she is struck by his “positive fragrance of purity” and the sense
that he has known nothing but love. She finds herself excusing him
for any potential mishap because he is too beautiful to misbehave.
Yet she also senses a disturbing emptiness in Miles, an impersonality
and lack of history, as though he is less than real.
Once the governess begins having her supernatural encounters,
she comes to believe that Miles is plotting evil deeds with his
ghostly counterpart, Quint, and indeed Miles does exhibit strange
behavior. For example, he plans an incident so that the governess
will think him “bad,” and he steals the letter she wrote to his
uncle. Mrs. Grose tells us that Peter Quint was a bad influence
on him, but we have no way to measure the extent or precise nature
of this influence, and Miles’s misdeeds may be nothing more than
childish pranks. The fact that Miles is otherwise unusually pleasant
and well behaved suggests that the sinister quality of his behavior exists
only in the governess’s mind. The governess eventually decides that
Miles must be full of wickedness, reasoning that he is too “exquisite”
to be anything else, a conclusion she bases only on her own subjective impressions
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Turn of the Screw!