How did the Otis family scare the ghost in Oscar Wilde's short story The Canterville Ghost?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The titular figure in Oscar Wilde's short story The Canterville Ghost has a long, distinguished history of terrifying occupants of Canterville Chase, the palatial estate he shared in life with Lady Eleanore de Canterville, his wife whom he stood accused of murdering before mysteriously disappearing himself. So successful, in fact, has Sir Simon, the ghost, been in frightening the home's occupants that the haunted mansion has developed quite the reputation for its supernatural idiosyncrasies. The American family that moves in, however, proves immediately immune to Sir Simon's greatest efforts at similarly terrifying them. Indeed, no sooner does the Otis family move in than the eldest of the children of Hiram and Lucretia Otis, Washington, quickly demonstrates the Americans' supremely rational nature by effectively removing the blood stain believed to be that of the late, murdered Lady Eleanore.

The Canterville Ghost is about Sir Simon's persistent but ultimately unsuccessful efforts at scaring the Otis family out of the mansion. The Otis family (father Hiram, mother Lucretia, son Washington, 15-year-old daughter Virginia, and the twin boys, affectionately and patriotically known as "the Star and Stripes") are immune to Sir Simon's efforts, their pragmatism and rational nature a form of protection against the macabre machinations of the ghost. The chains Sir Simon uses to make frightening sounds elicit the following suggestion from Hiram:

"My dear sir...I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator. It is said to be completely efficacious upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that effect on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines."

It is in Chapter II of The Canterville Ghost that Sir Simon becomes increasingly agitated at his new nemeses' resilience. As the ghost begins to angrily contemplate his situation, the Otis family assumes the offensive, as when "two little white-robed figures appeared, and a large pillow whizzed past his head." The "two little white-robed figures" are the twins.

With the transition to Chapter III, Sir Simon is confronted by sights that terrify or, at a minimum, seriously annoy him, as when Wilde's narrator observes that "the vulgarity of the twins, and the gross materialism of Mrs. Otis, were naturally extremely annoying." Sir Simon, however, remains determined to frighten the American family and is confident of his success. The situation changes, however, when, preparing to begin his nightly escapades, he is himself confronted by a frightening scene:

"He chuckled to himself, and turned the corner; but no sooner had he done so than, with a piteous wail of terror, he fell back, and hid his blanched face in his long, bony hands. Right in front of him was standing a horrible spectre, motionless as a carven image, and monstrous as a madman's dream!"

Sir Simon does not, of course, see an actual apparition. What has frightened him is a prank played on him by the twins. Sir Simon has met his match. The Otis family has angered and frightened Sir Simon by its continuous displays of indifference to his attempts at scaring them and has frightened him through their own childish actions, a sort of which he has heretofore never encountered.

Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oscar Wilde's story "The Canterville Ghost" is a humorous parody of American and British upper class behavior. In the story, Hiram B. Otis, the United States ambassador to England, purchases a haunted Tudor mansion for himself and his family. Though the family is warned it is haunted, the family refuses to believe it. As the ghost begins making his appearances, the American family members show their hard, practical American natures by refusing to be scared and even offering the ghost advice. Because the ghost cannot scare the family members, he feels insulted and devotes himself to revenge.

In Chapter III, the ghost of Sir Simon withdraws from the wainscoting, "muttering strange sixteenth-century curses, and ever and anon brandishing the rusty dagger in the midnight air." Soon, he is prepared to intrude on Washington in his bedroom, the eldest son, but lets out a "piteous wail of terror" and falls back, horrified because he sees a "horrible specter." In other words, the ghost of Sir Simon becomes terrified because he thinks he is seeing a ghost. He turns and flees to his room but returns in the morning to see that the twins had played a trick on him. They had made a representation of a ghost using a "white dimity bed-curtain, with a sweeping-brush, a kitchen cleaver, and a hollow turnip."

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The Canterville Ghost

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