Study Guide

The Canterville Ghost

by Oscar Wilde

The Canterville Ghost Characters

Characters

Sir Simon Canterville
See Ghost

Cecil
See Duke of Cheshire

Duke of Cheshire
Desperately in love with the fifteen-year old Virginia Otis, the boyish Duke of Cheshire proposes after watching her win a pony race. However, his guardians pack him off to Eton, and he must wait to marry. But his impetuousness cannot be quelled. When Virginia vanishes, he insists on being part of the search party. As soon as she reappears, he smothers her with kisses. His devotion is rewarded, and Virginia consents to become the Duchess of Cheshire. Ghost
The Ghost, or Sir Simon Canterville, has haunted Canterville Chase since he was starved to death in 1584 by his dead wife's brothers. They murdered him because he had murdered his wife for the trivial reasons that she was plain and a bad housekeeper. For three hundred years, Sir Simon has frightened the inhabitants of Canterville Chase and has relished his role as resident ghost. He has appeared as ‘‘The Headless Earl," "The Corpse-Snatcher of Chertsey Barn,’’ and ‘‘The Blood-sucker of Bexley Moor’’ as well as other incarnations. However, when the rational American Otises arrive, the Ghost realizes that his audience does not appreciate his performance. No matter what he tries, he cannot frighten the Otis family. Weary and despairing, Sir Simon begs Virginia Otis to pray for him so that he can finally achieve eternal rest. Initially the butt of the twins' s pranks and an annoyance to the practical Otises, the Ghost becomes an object of sympathy. Before he goes quietly to his grave, he gives Virginia a box of priceless jewels. Mr. Horace B. Otis
The boisterous head of the Otis family, Mr. Otis first dismisses tales of a ghost in his newly purchased...

(The entire section is 731 words.)

The Canterville Ghost Themes and Characters

The story begins when Hiram B. Otis and his family move into Canterville Chase, despite warnings from Lord Canterville that the castle is haunted. The Otis family includes Mr. and Mrs. Otis, their son Washington, their daughter Virginia, and twin boys. At the onset of the tale, not one member of the Otis family believes in ghosts, but shortly after they move in none of them can deny the presence of Sir Simon. The family hears clanking chains, they witness reappearing bloodstains on the carpet, and they see strange apparitions in various forms. But none of these scares the Otises in the least. In fact, upon hearing the clanking noises in the hallway, Mr. Otis promptly gets out of bed and gives the ghost Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator to oil his chains.

Despite Sir Simon's attempts to appear in the most gruesome disguises, the family refuses to be frightened, and Sir Simon feels increasingly helpless and humiliated. When Mrs. Otis notices a mysterious red mark on the carpet, she simply replies that she does "not at all care for blood stains in the sitting room." When Mrs. Umney, the housekeeper, informs Mrs. Otis that the blood stain is indeed evidence of the ghost and cannot be removed, Washington Otis, the oldest son, suggests that the stain be removed with Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent: a quick fix, like the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator, and a practical way of dealing with the problem. The Otises, like stereotypical Americans, seek instant gratification, and they expect to find an explanation and a solution for everything in existence. In setting the Otises against Sir Simon, a symbol of English tradition, Wilde craftily portrays both Hiram and Mrs. Otis as "ugly Americans," that is to say, as uncultured, unimpressed by British culture, and incapable of being moved by anything out of the ordinary.

Wilde describes Mrs. Otis as "a very handsome middle-aged woman" who has been "a celebrated New York belle." She is obviously considered refined in the American way of thinking but, like her husband, Mrs. Otis is materialistic and has a blatant disregard for British tradition and history. Her lack of culture surfaces...

(The entire section is 884 words.)