What is the conflict in The Canterville Ghost?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the basic conflicts in The Canterville Ghost is the collision between modernity and antiquity.  The ghost represents the remnants of the past. The manner in which Sir Simon would easily terrify the servants and other members of the traditional classes is part of the past that is upturned when the Americans move into The Chase.  The American embrace of modernity is where the fundamental conflict lies. The ghost cannot fathom ho little fear they possess.  For each "problem" or "obstacle" that the ghost places in front of the family, there is a modern solution.  Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator, Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent, or  Dr. Dobell's tincture are the tools that the Americans propose to offset what the ghost places in front of them.  This clash of culture helps to underscore the basic conflict present throughout most of the text.

The youthful approach and complete certainty with which they live provides no room for fear of the ghost, something that becomes evident as Sir Simon speaks to Virginia.  From the collision between past and present, the conflict becomes a desire to transcend one's notion of identity.  The ghost wishes to find peace and the innocence of Virginia to help becomes set against the condition of the rest of the world that sees the ghost as malevolent.  The initial conflict of collision between modernity and antiquity is set aside for a conflict of the condition of what is in light of what can be. The desire for individuals to aspire to an ideal realm, even while being mired in the condition of the temporal becomes the conflict that drives the second half of the work until its conclusion. The ending in which Virginia understands the ghost and refuses to share with anyone what happened in her disappearance helps to provide resolution to this conflict.

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