A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal Themes

Daniel Defoe

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most obvious question in “A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal” is whether or not ghosts exist. Although Defoe presents various affirmations about the appearance of the ghost of Mrs. Veal, he also includes contradictory information. Furthermore, the information is passed along from person to person, and such a process usually results in distortion and inaccuracy, if not falsehood. The reader is left to see the existence of ghosts as something either proven or unproven. If ghosts do exist, can they be recognized as ghosts? In Mrs. Bargrave’s account of her experience, the ghost of Mrs. Veal does not seem to be a ghost. Mrs. Bargrave believes her friend to be alive. Finally, are ghosts always evil, or can they be good spirits? Ghosts are usually presumed to be frightening and evil, but Mrs. Veal’s ghost is friendly, pleasant, and morally wise. Is the mortal world the realm of danger while the spirit world is the realm of friendship?

Another important issue in the story is women. The world around Mrs. Bargrave is predisposed to doubt the veracity of women. If an account of an apparition comes from a woman, then corroboration is required. Both the narrator in the preface and the neighbor who recapitulates Mrs. Bargrave’s description of events are aware of the doubts raised by her gender, and both strive to clarify that Mrs. Bargrave is a speaker of proven honesty and integrity. In addition to the questions about the truthfulness of...

(The entire section is 499 words.)