illustration of a ghost standing behid an iron fence with its arm raised against a large mansion

The Canterville Ghost

by Oscar Wilde
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Describe "The Canterville Ghost" as a story.

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"The Canterville Ghost" is a short story written by Oscar Wilde . It begins with the Otis family, who are Americans, buying the Canterville mansion in England. The previous owner warns the Otis family that the house has been haunted for many years by a ghost named Sir...

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"The Canterville Ghost" is a short story written by Oscar Wilde. It begins with the Otis family, who are Americans, buying the Canterville mansion in England. The previous owner warns the Otis family that the house has been haunted for many years by a ghost named Sir Simon. The Otis family doesn't believe the story for the simple reason that they do not believe in ghosts. Not long after taking possession of the house, the Otis family is forced to admit that the ghost and the haunting is real; however, the story never becomes a "scary ghost story." In fact, the story becomes a comedy as it parodies the stereotypical ghost story. One reason that the story never becomes truly scary is because the Otis family simply refuses to be scared of the ghost. In fact, the two young Otis twins make it their personal goal to antagonize Sir Simon at every possible moment. It gets to the point that Sir Simon is scared to even leave his hiding places. The only family member that takes pity on Sir Simon is Virginia, and Sir Simon pleads with her to help him finally cross over to his eternal resting place. Virginia agrees to help Sir Simon, and she accompanies him to the Garden of Death where he can finally sleep forever. The story ends with Virginia getting married. Her husband asks her what happened between her and the ghost, and Virginia refuses to tell him.

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"The Canterville Ghost" makes fun of (parodies) the typical ghost story. In the typical story, a frightening ghost haunts an ancestral English hall, terrorizing the people who live there. In this story, Wilde turns that idea on its head: a practical American family terrorizes a ghost. They are not afraid of it at all. When it leaves bloodstains on the library floor, they simply rub the stains out with a new cleaning formula. When the ghost tries to scare them, the young Otis boys shoot at it with a pellet gun and make a water slide so it will slip and fall. 

But beneath the comedy, Wilde has a more serious purpose. He raises our sympathy and compassion for the ghost. The ghost is not simply a "thing" that is out there and must be destroyed, but a human being (albeit one existing between the living and the dead) with emotions and problems. In encouraging the reader not to stereotype an "other," such as a ghost, Wilde calls into question the ways we stereotype people who are not quite like us. 

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