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 Otis family treat the ghost in "The Canterville Ghost?"

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The Otis family does not treat Sir Simon in the way that readers would expect them to treat a ghost. When the story begins, Mr. Otis is informed about the presence of the ghost. However, he denies its existence.

Well, so does the family doctor for that matter, Lord Canterville. But there is no such thing, sir, as a ghost, and I guess the laws of Nature are not going to be suspended for the British aristocracy.

Eventually, the Otis family does admit that the ghost is real. Instead of acting with fear and trepidation, the Otis family acts either annoyed by the ghost or completely antagonistic. The first actual confrontation between the ghost and the Otis family happens at night. Sir Simon is hoping to scare the Otis family. However, Mr. Otis greets the ghost and kindly tells him to stop making so much noise. Mr. Otis even gives Sir Simon some oil to lube up with.

"My dear sir," said Mr. Otis, "I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator. It is said to be completely efficacious upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that effect on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines. I shall leave it here for you by the bedroom candles, and will be happy to supply you with more, should you require it."

The two twins are especially antagonistic to Sir Simon. They intentionally try to scare him and even set traps for him. It becomes so bad that Sir Simon does not even want to come out any more. He is actually afraid of the Otis family. The only family member that treats Sir Simon kindly is Virginia. She speaks patiently with the ghost and even helps him reach his desired eternal rest.

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At the beginning of the story, the Otis family denies the ghost's existence. In Chapter Two, however, the ghost makes his first appearance and Mr Otis reacts to him in a rather humorous way: he offers him some Lubricator to oil his noisy chains.

Later, in Chapter Three, the ghost attempts to scare the family by wearing an antique suit of armour. The family reacts with violence, as though the ghost is an unwanted visitor to the house. Mr Otis, for instance, pulls out his revolver:

The United States Minister...called upon him, in accordance with Californian etiquette, to hold up his hands!

In this scene, the twins also attack him with their pea-shooters. During his escape, he lets out a frightening groan which prompts Mrs Otis to offer him some tincture for his "indigestion."

In contrast, the only member of the family who treats the ghost with any kindness and sympathy is Virginia. She has a conversation with the ghost in Chapter Five in which she learns of his past and his desire to go to the Garden of Death. Unlike the other members of her family, she chooses to work with the ghost instead of trying to work against him.

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