The Canterville Ghost Questions and Answers
by Oscar Wilde

The Canterville Ghost book cover
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Is the Canterville Ghost a contrast of American and British culture?

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janihash24 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Yes. Wilde plays with stereotypes of both American and English cultures in this story to comic effect. It's worth noting that Wilde himself had visited the United States on a lecture tour in 1882, prior to publishing this story. This tour inspired classic anecdotes such as one involving the miners in Leadville, Colorado who, upon asking why Wilde had not brought sixteenth-century silversmith Benvenuto Cellini with him, were told by Wilde that he was dead, to which one miner called out, "Who shot him?"

The Americans in the story are presented as plain-speaking, no-nonsense, ultra-practical people, especially Virginia, who isn't afraid of the ghost at all, only curious and sympathetic. History does not mean a great deal to them.

The Canterville clan are shown as unable to cope (especially since their servants keep leaving) and are as Monty Python would say, "upper-class twits."

This contrast of cultures remains funny even today, which is why the story, along with much of Wilde's work, survives.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Yes, "The Canterville Ghost" does contrast American and British culture. Much of the plot's comedy hinges on the differences between British and American reactions to the ghost haunting Canterville Hall. The British, wedded to ideas of tradition and history, are properly fearful of a ghost. Sir Simon has easy success frightening them with his blood stains and scary costumes.

The new American family that rents Canterville Hall, however, has no interest in traditions or the old ways of living. They react to the ghost in a very practical manner. When the ghost leaves his bloodstain on the library floor, they simply scrub it out with the state-of-the-art Paragon detergent. Instead of following protocol by being frightened of the ghost, they scare it more than it scares them.

Wilde makes fun of both American pragmatism and the way the British are stuck in tradition. In the end, it takes the fresh perspective of the Americans (particularly Virginia's compassion) to free the ghost of his curse.

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