The Canterville Ghost Questions and Answers
by Oscar Wilde

The Canterville Ghost book cover
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What is a character sketch of the ghost in The Canterville Ghost?  

A character sketch of the ghost in "The Canterville Ghost" can include that the ghost is proud of his history, enjoys frightening people, and is theatrical. When he cannot frighten the Otis family, he becomes angry, then dejected, and wishes to be released into death.

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The ghost, Sir Simon, is badly misunderstood. By making Sir Simon a more rounded character than the average ghost, Wilde turns stereotypes about ghosts on their heads.

We learn that Sir Simon, while he feels an obligation to do his duty by trying to frighten the Otis family, really would prefer to be released from the job. In fact, he ends up more frightened of the prankster Otis twins then they are of him.

We find out about his sensitivity when Virginia talks to him and learns he wants nothing more than to be released to die. He shows vulnerability when he confides in her that he needs someone pure, like her, to pray for him so that he can go to his final rest. He is not so much terrifying, as we normally imagine a ghost, as sad.

We know that he likes to dress up, showing a theatrical side.

One interpretation is that he is a portrait of Wilde himself, who felt misunderstood and "othered" because of his homosexuality. Wilde liked to dress up and was a sought-after guest for society hostesses because of his ability to be entertaining. Underneath, however, like the ghost, he suffered.

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Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Sir Simon, or the ghost, is the namesake and major character in "The Canterville Ghost." He has roamed the interior of Canterville Chase since his death in 1584 and is a very complex and emotional character, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the ghost is fiercely proud of his personal history. He boasts, for example, of his success at the Kenilworth Tournament and the compliment paid to his suit of armour by Queen Elizabeth I. He loves to reminisce about his "brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years" as the resident ghost of Canterville Chase. These recollections border on egotism, as the narrator states in Chapter 3, but are central to understanding the delight he feels at being able to scare others. 

Secondly, the ghost has a theatrical nature which he expresses through his hauntings. He does this by creating characters, like the "Red Reuben" and the "Gaunt Gibeon," routines that he has developed to aid him in terrifying the residents of Canterville Chase.

His failure to terrify the Otis family, however, gives us a glimpse into a darker side of the ghost's character. In the beginning he becomes angry and determined to have his revenge. But, as his failures increase, his character softens and becomes more vulnerable. The opening of Chapter Four sums this up succinctly: "the ghost was very weak and tired...his nerves were completely shattered, and he started at the slightest noise." In other words, when the ghost is not fulfilling his purpose, he quickly becomes dejected and feels that he is not appreciated by those around him. 

When he begs Virginia Otis to pray for him, so that he might have eternal peace, we see another important aspect of his character: the ability to be repentant and humble. 

The ghost is, therefore, not at all how one might imagine a ghost to be. He is other-worldly, yet strangely human. He exudes pride and vanity, yet is vulnerable and feels a strong urge to repent of his past crimes. 

 

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