At the beginning of "The Canterville Ghost," Lord Canterville sells his ancestral home, Canterville Chase, to an American, Mr Hiram B Otis, and his family. Mr Otis is an American ambassador and his wife, Lucretia, a former "New York belle," is notable for her "superb profile." The couple have four children, the eldest of whom is Washington Otis, a "fair-haired" and "good-looking young man" whose excellent dancing skills are well-known in London. The couple's only daughter is Virginia, a girl of fifteen, described as being as "lovely as a fawn" and well-known for her excellent skills in pony riding. Finally are the twin boys, known among the family as the Stars and the Stripes because they are always getting "swished." They are extremely mischievous by nature, perhaps as a result of their young age.
From the beginning of the story, the family members are characterised their sceptical attitude towards the supernatural. They do not believe Lord Canterville, for instance, when he tells them about the Canterville ghost. This attitude of scepticism quickly fades, however, when the Otis family meet the ghost in Chapter Two. From this point, the Otis family assert their dominance by resisting his numerous attempts to scare them.