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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Student Question

How did the Canterville ghost plan to frighten the US minister's family?

Expert Answers

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The Canterville ghost plans to frighten the Otis family with all the tried and true methods of a classic ghost haunting an ancestral home. He will leave blood stains on the floor of the library, appear in frightening costumes, show up at night with red eyes and matted hair, and rattle and clank his heavy chains. 

All of these methods of attempting to frighten the family represent common cliches of ghost stories, familiar to readers then and now. These methods of terror work against the English, who are properly fearful of ancestral specters. The story turns, however, on the ghost's complete inability to scare the practical Americans living in his hall. Unlike the English, they are not "haunted" by the past and take practical methods, such as rubbing out the blood stains with a brand new soap solution, to counter the ghost's attempts to intimidate them. 

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How did the Canterville ghost plan to frighten the US family?

The ghost's job is to haunt and frighten whoever resides in Canterville Hall and one of his charming qualities is how seriously and earnestly he takes his job. He works hard at it and tries his best to do it well. He truly is a professional. He has a full repertoire of "frights," and he pulls out all the stops for the Otis family. This includes repeatedly putting the bloodstain on the floor of the library that the family scrubs out. He also has a series of elaborate costumes, from his Headless Nick gear to a suit of armor he dons. He moans, he drags clanking chains, he appears suddenly at night at a bedside: he does all he can to fulfill his mission. Of course, he has never been up against a set of Americans, and they don't respond as expected to his tried and true methods. 

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