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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Who are the main characters in "The Canterville Ghost"?

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The story's main characters are the Canterville Ghost and the Otis family.

The Canterville Ghost, a former English lord named Sir Simon, murdered his wife centuries ago. For this crime, he is forced to walk the earth as a ghost. His job is to haunt Canterville Hall and frighten the residents. He would like to go to his final rest and stop being a ghost, but he needs someone of purity and faith to intercede and pray for him to die.

The Otis family consists of Mr. Hiram Otis, Mrs. Lucretia Otis, and their four children. They have one daughter, a beautiful teenage girl named Virginia, and three sons. Washington is the oldest child in the family and the twin boys, called Stars and Stripes, are the youngest. Being practical, hard-headed Americans without much sense of tradition, they do not believe in ghosts. Even when they realize the ghost is real, they are not afraid of it. Star and Stripes play so many practical jokes on Sir Simon that he is frightened of them.

Minor characters include Mrs. Umney, the housekeeper, and the young Duke of Chehsire, who falls in love with Virginia.

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The main characters in "The Canterville" ghost come down to two groups.  One group is the Otis family.  The other group is Sir Simon, the Canterville Ghost.  

Sir Simon has been haunting the house for a long time.  He murdered his wife, and then his brothers-in-law killed him for revenge.  He has been haunting the house ever since.  

The Otis family is made up of Mr. Otis, Mrs. Otis, Virginia Otis (the daughter), and the Otis Twins.  Virginia Otis is the only member of the Otis family that has any kind of sympathy toward Sir Simon.  In fact, she helps Sir Simon make peace with his past and move on to the after life.  The rest of the Otis family, especially the twins, enjoy pestering the Sir Simon and making his ghostly existence miserable.  

The last main character is the Duke of Cheshire.  He's in love with Virginia and they eventually end up getting married.  

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Who are the main characters in Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost?

The characters in Oscar Wilde’s story The Canterville Ghost include Mr. Hiram B. Otis, “the American Minister,” whose family moves into Canterville Chase, his wife, teenage daughter Virginia, son Washington and twin boys referred to as “The Star and Stripes,” who Wilde describes as “delightful boys, and, with the exception of the worthy Minister, the only true republicans of the family.”  In addition, and of some significance given the plot and title of The Canterville Ghost, “Sir Simon,” the apparition, plays a major role in Wilde’s gothic, comedic story.  Lord Canterville, “a man of the most punctilious honour,” agrees to let his mansion to the Otis family, but with the proviso that the house is haunted.  As Lord Canterville explains to Mr. Otis,

“We have not cared to live in the place ourselves . . . since my grandaunt, the Dowager Duchess of Bolton, was frightened into a fit, from which she never really recovered, by two skeleton hands being placed on her shoulders as she was dressing for dinner . . .”

Virginia is described as “a little girl of fifteen, lithe and lovely as a fawn, and with a fine freedom in her large blue eyes.”  Virginia’s character, and the fact that she is the only member of the Otis family to develop a cordial and productive relationship with the ghost, is presented as a strong, independent figure:

“She was a wonderful Amazon, and had once raced old Lord Bilton on her pony twice round the park, winning by a length and a half . . .”

The oldest of the children is Washington, christened as such

“ . . . in a moment of patriotism . . . was a fair-haired, rather good-looking young man, who had qualified himself for American diplomacy by leading the German at the Newport Casino for three successive seasons, and even in London was well known as an excellent dancer.”

Plus, it should be noted, Washington, despite his passion for gardenias and his peerage, “was extremely sensible.”

Mrs. Otis, prior to marriage, had been a “celebrated New York belle” and was now “a very handsome, middle-aged woman, with fine eyes, and superb profile.”  She is a woman of formidable character whose transition from her native New York to London does not diminish her spirit:  “She had a magnificent constitution, and a really wonderful amount of animal spirits.”

Mr. Otis is similarly not a person with which to trifle.  Lord Canterbury’s admonishment regarding the presence in the house of a ghost is treated by Otis with derision:

“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.”

Wilde has the stage now for a conflict between the strong-willed intelligent family on one side and an insecure ghost on the other.  As the story progresses, the ghost becomes increasingly agitated by its failure to frighten the Otis family.  On top of his failure to scare the family, the ghost endures the indignity of being the victim of practical jokes orchestrated by the twins.  The ghost, Sir Simon de Canterville before his death, allegedly murdered his wife in the house and his spirit is condemned to haunt the premises until his soul is redeemed through acts of contrition on the part of those around him.  As he laments his situation to Virginia, he states in despair:

“ . . .you must weep with me for my sins, because I have no tears, and pray with me for my soul, because I have no faith. . .”

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