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 three appearances of the ghost in "The Canterville Ghost."

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In "The Canterville Ghost," the ghost makes his first appearance to the Otis family in Chapter Two. Every member of the family is in bed after a busy day of driving and, around 1 a.m., Mr Otis is woken up by a "strange noise" coming from the hallway. On opening his bedroom door, he is greeted by an "old man of terrible aspect" with eyes as red as "burning coals." But, instead of feeling fear, Mr Otis offers to oil the ghost's chains before promptly returning to bed.

The ghost next appears to the family on a Sunday night in Chapter Three. Again, the Otises are in bed and, this time, they are all woken up by a "fearful crash" downstairs in the hall. The sound was, in fact, an antique suit of armour falling to the floor after the ghost had unsuccessfully attempted to climb into it. The Otises then find the ghost sitting in a chair with an injured knee and "an expression of acute agony on his face." This prompts the twins to shoot their pea-shooters at the ghost while Mr Otis calls him out with his revolver. The terrified ghost is thus forced to run away. 

Finally, the ghost appears for a third time later in Chapter Three. He waits again until the family has gone to bed, before emerging from the wainscotting. His plan is to scare Washington Otis, the eldest son, who has annoyed him by removing the blood-stain in the library each morning. But, on arriving at Washington's room, he is confronted by the sight of a "horrible spectre." Having never seen a ghost before, the Canterville ghost is terrified and immediately flees to his room. In the morning, however, the ghost returns to confront this other ghost, only to find that it is nothing more than trick played on him by Washington Otis.

What we learn from these appearances, then, is that the ghost's persistence is matched only by the resilience of the Otises. The family refuses to be afraid of the ghost and this, in turn, leaves the ghost feeling humiliated and frustrated, thereby creating the story's central conflict.

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