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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Discuss any three events in which the Canterville ghost successfully frightened people.

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The ghost's initial attempt to frighten the Otis family is a disaster. Instead of being scared, Mr. Otis instead advises him to oil his clunky, rusty chains and manacles. He gives the ghost some Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator and closes the door on him. Furthermore, Mr. Otis's two young sons hurl a pillow at him. The apparition is humiliated and gets to thinking about his greatest successes of the past.

He had terrified the Dowager Duchess into a fit as she stood in front of her mirror wearing her lace and diamonds. He also thought about the four housemaids whom he had driven to hysteria when he only grinned at them through the curtains of one of the spare bedrooms. In addition, he pleasantly reflected about the occasion when he scared the wits out of the rector of the parish when he blew out his candle as the rector was leaving the library. As a result, the rector acquired a permanent nervous disorder and had to be taken care of by Sir William Gull. 

All these successes and many others make the specter proud and give him a sense of achievement and purpose. Frightening the residents and occupants of Canterville Chase has, ironically, become his lifeblood. His entire existence depends on the horror he is able to exact on those who dwell there. His best attempts at shocking the Otis family are frustrated by their apparent inability to be intimidated. They instead, particularly through the actions of the twin boys, drive the Ghost to despair. He soon becomes an anxious and depressed wreck.  

The Ghost is eventually saved from his despair by Virginia Otis, the American Minister's fifteen-year-old daughter. She mistakenly comes upon Sir Simon Canterville's poor and disparaged spirit and takes pity on him. Her intervention is what releases him from his duty and brings him everlasting peace.   

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While the Canterville ghost fails to frighten the Otis family, he has enjoyed far greater successes during his long career. In the opening chapter of the story, for instance, Lord Canterville talks about one of the ghost's most famous hauntings: that of his aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Bolton. The ghost appeared to the Duchess by placing his "skeleton hands" on her shoulders as she was getting ready for dinner. When she saw his hands in the mirror, she was understandably "frightened into a fit."

Similarly, in Chapter Two, the Canterville ghost remembers his haunting of Madame de Tremouillac. He appeared to her as a skeleton seated in an armchair and reading her diary. She was so terrified that she suffered an "attack of brain fever" which confined her to bed for six weeks. When she recovered, she was "reconciled to the Church" and ended her "connection with that notorious sceptic, Monsieur de Voltaire."

Finally, in this same chapter, the reader learns about "the beautiful" Lady Stutfield whom the ghost tried to strangle. The ghost's fingers left burn marks on her neck, forcing the lady to always wear a "velvet band" around her neck to hide them. Later, she committed suicide by drowning herself in a pond.

As these incidents show, the Canterville ghost has committed some wicked deeds to the residents of the house. The arrival of the Otis family, however, brings this career to an abrupt halt. 

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