Study Guide

The Wings of the Dove Lies and Deceit

By Henry James

Lies and Deceit

The way different characters in The Wings of The Dove deal with deceit gives us some seriously solid insight into their personalities. Kate Croy, for example, has no problem deceiving Milly into marrying Merton so that Merton can get her dollars. For Kate, this is a win/win situation: Milly will get to feel loved before she dies and Merton will get her money.

But Merton feels morally uncomfortable with lying—so uncomfortable that he simply can't do it even when a little white lie from him would allow Milly to die happily. His resistance to lying makes him kind of a jerk, and the ease with which Kate lies makes her a bit of a scumbag.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. Do you think Merton does the right thing by refusing to deny his engagement to Kate in front of Milly, or should he just lie to make Milly happy before she dies? Why?
  2. Is Kate a bad person in your view, or do you agree with her "everybody wins" approach to having Merton marry Milly? Use specific evidence from the text to support your answer.
  3. When Milly deceives Susan about her visit to Sir Luke Strett (the doctor), does it establish Milly's newfound independence in a positive way? Or should we think of this as a negative development for Milly's otherwise good character?

Chew on This

The dominant moral of The Wings of the Dove is that honesty is always the best policy, no matter what.

Ultimately, Merton is selfish for refusing to lie to Milly about loving Kate. If he were truly good, he'd overcome his lame conscience and do whatever it took to make Milly happy in her dying days.