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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What are the different reactions to the recurring bloodstain in "The Canterville Ghost"?

Quick answer:

In "The Canterville Ghost," characters react very differently to the bloodstain that reappears every morning. Mrs. Umney attributes it to the ghost haunting the hall, while the Otises don't believe in ghosts and scrub the stain out. However, when the stain keeps reappearing, the Otises begin to reevaluate their thoughts about whether a ghost lives in the hall.

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Mrs. Umney, the British housekeeper, and the Otises at first have very different responses to the bloodstain on the library floor. Mrs. Umney is sure it is the blood of the murdered Lady Eleanore de Canterville, left by the ghost who has long been haunting the hall. She says the stain can't be rubbed out. The American Otises are sure this is nonsense. They don't believe in ghosts and take a practical approach to the stain, rubbing it off with Paragon detergent.

However, when the stain reappears day after day, even after the Otises lock up the library at night, they begin to get more "interested." Mr. and Mrs. Otis begin to reconsider their denial of the existence of spirits. Their belief in ghosts is confirmed when they see the Canterville ghost with their own eyes. However, unlike the British, they are not afraid of it, a response that throws the ghost completely off kilter.

This is a sweet story about a ghost who is able to get to his final rest through the help of the pure Virginia, but it is also a comic send-up of cultural differences between Americans and the British. In the late nineteenth century, when Wilde was writing, more and more wealthy Americans were coming to Britain, bringing their different cultural outlook to the forefront—something he satirizes in this tale.

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