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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How does The Canterville Ghost differ from typical ghost stories?

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To a large extent, the idea that The Canterville Ghost story is different is true. The story does have some typical scary ghost story vibes to it. It's a story about a ghost that haunts a big mansion. People have been afraid to live there, and there is a blood spot on the floor that never goes away. It is a spooky set up. Additionally, when Sir Simon makes his first appearance, he is terrifying to look at.

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.

This is also one of those key moments in which the story differentiates itself from a standard, scary ghost story. Mr. Otis isn't scared in the slightest. He's a bit annoyed at the fact that the ghost woke him up. Mr. Otis hands Sir Simon some oil and essentially tells him to stop making so much noise. He then turns around, goes back to bed, and leaves the ghost standing there dumbfounded.

I shall leave it here for you by the bedroom candles, and will be happy to supply you with more, should you require it." With these words the United States Minister laid the bottle down on a marble table, and, closing his door, retired to rest.

The reader can hardly believe it too because Mr. Otis's reaction is so far away from what we have come to expect from a haunting story. The author continues the story's departure from a typical ghost story as the story progresses. Not only is Mr. Otis completely unafraid of the ghost, but the entire family is also unafraid. This is especially true of the twins. They make it their goal to antagonize the historically antagonistic ghost.

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"The Canterville Ghost" has all of the elements of a traditional ghost story: it is set in Canterville Chase, a haunted mansion, has its share of supernatural phenomena, like the blood-stain on the library floor, and features a resident ghost called Sir Simon.

But "The Canterville Ghost" is also a ghost story with a difference because it is filled with unexpected instances of humour and satire. We see this most clearly in the characterisation of the Canterville ghost himself because he is so different from the ghosts depicted in traditional stories. He is easily offended, for example, and is constantly outwitted and terrorised by the Otis children. When they create their own version of the Canterville ghost to scare him, in Chapter Three, the real ghost is terrified:

Never having seen a ghost before, he naturally was terribly frightened, and after a second hasty glance at the awful phantom, fled back to his room.

In fact, "The Canterville Ghost" is a story which flips the traditional ghostly tale on its head. This is because the Otis family are more successful in scaring the ghost than he is in scaring them. It is this twist which makes "The Canterville Ghost" so darkly funny and so different from other ghost stories. 

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