What are the supernatural elements in the story, "The Canterville Ghost?"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Oscar Wilde seemingly has created a typical setting and specter for his story, there are irregularities in his ghost story. Oscar Wilde uses his tale to satirize Victorian society and its affectations, as well as British traditions. Wilde also pokes fun at American pragmatism and materialism. 

One distinguishing element of the ghost story present in Wilde's tale is that of the concept of haunting and other supernatural elements. Traditionally, the ghost is usually linked to a place; such is the case with Sir Simon Canterville, who was once the lord and proprietor of Canterville Chase and now haunts it.

As Sir Simon haunts the mansion, he persists in maintaining the blood stain on the carpet despite multiple efforts by the different generations of Cantervilles to remove it. When he discovers the stain, the new proprietor, Mr. Hiram B. Otis, is appalled that such a stain should be allowed on his floor. "It must be removed at once," he declares. The housekeeper tries to explain that this blood stain has been there since the murder of Lady Eleanore in 1575 and is greatly admired by tourists and "others." Further, she informs him that the spot cannot be removed.

"That is all nonsense," cried Washington Otis; "Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will clean it up in no time."

In a few moments, the cleaner has, indeed, removed the stain. Later, it is discovered that the ghost restores the stain whenever it has been cleaned.

Another traditional aspect of ghost stories is the frightening appearance of the ghost and his wearing of chains. When the specter shows himself to Mr. Otis in part two, he clearly has a ghostly appearance. 

Right in front of him he [Mr. Otis] saw, in the wan moonlight, an old man of terrible aspect. His eyes were as red burning coals; long grey hair fell over his shoulders in matted coils; his garments, which were of antique cut, were soiled and ragged, and from his wrists and ankles hung heavy manacles and rusty gyves.

Further, in true ghostly fashion, Sir Simon is able to pass through walls. In part two, the ghost passes through a wall when the Otis children awaken after hearing their father talking to the ghost.

[He] hastily adopt[ed] the Fourth Dimension of Space as a means of escape; he vanished through the wainscoting, and the house became quite quiet. (II)

In the end, despite his supernatural powers, the Canterville Ghost fails to frighten the Americans who have moved into his old mansion.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In many ways, "The Canterville Ghost" is a classical example of a late-Victorian ghost story. This is due to its supernatural elements which are designed to spook the reader and contrast sharply with the many instances of comedy. 

First of all, the setting of the story, Canterville Chase, provides a strong supernatural element. This haunted mansion has a long history which is made by more terrifying by another supernatural element: namely, the events which have taken place there. In 1575, for example, Sir Simon murdered his wife, Eleanore, in the library. Her blood stain provides a constant, physical reminder of this brutal crime and adds to the suspense which Wilde creates in the first chapter. 

Thirdly, the weather provides another supernatural element in "The Canterville Ghost." When the Otis family takes possession of the house in Chapter One, for instance, the weather changes, as if to reflect the houses's dark past and to foreshadow future events:

The sky became suddenly overcast with clouds, a curious stillness seemed to hold the atmosphere, a great flight of rooks passed silently over their heads, and, before they reached the house, some big drops of rain had fallen.

Similarly, "a raging storm" occurs just before the Otises discover the reappearance of the blood stain in the library. 

These supernatural elements not only create a strong sense of atmosphere in the story, they also build to the climax. That is, the ghost's repentance of his sins and his removal from Canterville Chase to the Garden of Death, a place where he can finally sleep and rest in peace. 

Read the study guide:
The Canterville Ghost

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