Study Guide

The Wings of the Dove Mortality

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Even before The Wings of The Dove gives us proof that Milly is a goner, Milly just knows. She drops little hints in her conversations with her friend Susan, saying absentminded things like, "I wonder how much longer I'll be around…" At first, we dismiss these statements off as meaningless and maybe a tad emo.

But once Milly starts visiting the doctor, we start to realize that this beautiful, rich young woman—who seems to have everything in life—is totally going to kick the bucket. Milly never feels sorry for herself in the face of death. Instead, she decides to meet death on her terms, which is a brave and awesome move.

Questions About Mortality

  1. When do you think Milly first realizes that there's something seriously wrong with her? How does she react to the news?
  2. What does Sir Luke Strett mean when he tells Milly that living is something you choose to do, rather than something your body does on its own?
  3. According to the people surrounding Milly, why is her death especially tragic? What makes her life so worth living?
  4. What's the most important thing Milly should do before she dies, according to Sir Luke Strett? How does Maud try to help make this possible?

Chew on This

In The Wings of the Dove, Henry James shows us that living isn't a biological state; it's something you choose to do every single day.

In The Wings of the Dove, the characters are just the pawns of fate. They have no personal control over what happens to them in the long run.

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