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 did the twins trick and outwit the Canterville Ghost?

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Shortly after the Otis family's arrival, the twins begin to play tricks on the Canterville ghost. In their first encounter, in Chapter Three, the ghost unsuccessfully tries to wear the antique suit of armour, prompting the twins to attack him with their pea-shooters. The ghost flees the hall to an upstairs landing, but, seeing the twins approach, makes himself disappear completely.

Their next encounter takes place in Chapter Four. The twins have stretched a number of strings across the corridor, causing the ghost to trip. The twins have also built a butter slide which injures the ghost by making him slip and fall. To take his revenge, the ghost decides to visit the twins in their bedroom at night, but on his arrival, he finds the door already ajar and hears "stifled shrieks of laughter" coming from behind the bed. In the next moment, a heavy jug full of water falls down on the ghost, "wetting him to the skin" and narrowly missing his shoulder. In another incident, later in this chapter, the twins jump out at the ghost and shout "Boo" as he walks down to the library.

After these incidents, the ghost is never again seen at night, but this does not prevent the twins from playing more tricks on him. Each night, for example, they scatter nutshells across the floor of the landing in the hope that the ghost might walk on them, but it is to no avail: the ghost is so humiliated that he does not appear to them again.

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How did the twins make fun of the Canterville ghost?

In a stark contrast to the elder sister Virginia's empathetic approach to dealing with the ghost in their new home, Stars and Stripes are described as young hooligans who, far from fearing the ghost, go out of their way to make things miserable for him.

Their antics include throwing pillows at Sir Simon's head, attempting to make him trip by spreading nuts along passageways, and hitting him with their peashooters. Their ultimate prank is to fashion their own ghost out of sheets and other paraphernalia in an attempt to unsettle Sir Simon.

As time goes by, Sir Simon's fear of the twins becomes too overpowering for him to even contemplate taking revenge on them. Their actions serve to add to the ghost's feelings of depression and hopelessness.

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How did the twins make fun of the Canterville ghost?

The all-American Otis twins, nicknamed Stars and Stripes, are not in the least afraid of the ghost haunting their new home in England's ancestral Canterville Hall. They make fun of the ghost and its attempts to scare them by playing practical jokes on it, as if they are at summer camp. The shoot it with their pea shooters, create a butter slide in the hallway so that it slips and falls, and they prop a bucket of water on the door of their room to fall on the ghost when he enters in his headless disguise. The ghost ends up more frightened of the twins than the twins are of it. All of this parodies, or makes fun of, the culture clash going on in the late 1880s, as rich Americans moved to England, between American pragmatism and the British tendency to be caught up in the traditions of the past. 

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