Quote 2

I was so determined to have all my proof that I flashed into ice to challenge him.
   “Whom do you mean by ‘he’?”
   “Peter Quint—you devil!”

This quotation appears in Chapter XXIV as the governess points out her vision of Quint to Miles and gives the narrative one final, infuriating layer of ambiguity. The governess is determined to wrench a confession from Miles, convinced that doing so will rid him of the demon Quint, and she turns to terrifying “ice” to get it out of him. Whether she succeeds is never clear, and Miles’s response remains open to interpretation. If Miles is referring to Peter Quint as the devil, then Miles’s subsequent death may imply that he is being dispossessed by the evil demon. If Miles is referring to the governess as the devil, then his subsequent death may be a result of the governess’s terrifying insanity. Miles seems to be indicating the novella’s true villain—but exactly whom he points out is ambiguous.

The governess’s determination to challenge Miles turns her into a frightening, aggressive woman. Her aggression may be justified, since she may have a possessed, cunning little boy on her hands. If this is the case, her methods can be deemed heroic and in a certain sense successful, since although Miles dies, he is rid of his demon. However, if the governess accuses Miles because of her own irrational logic, her challenging him is all the more frightening because he cannot make an acceptable defense. Reason cannot fend off insanity. The governess’s description of herself as determined, frigid, and cold suggests she realizes in retrospect that she may have misjudged the situation, but again, the situation is unclear. Two paragraphs later, the story abruptly ends.