The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde: Summary and Analysis

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The Canterville Ghost is a short story written by Oscar Wilde. It was first published in 1887. Unknown to many, this was his first published prose fiction work.

Contrary to what the title of the story may suggest, this is a humorous story at the core of which lies the differences in the American and British culture.

The Canterville Ghost: Plot Summary and Analysis

Mr. Otis , an American minister, was looking to buy Canterville Chase, a castle that  belonged to Sir Canterville. The castle was not inhabited by the Canterville family for decades now, the reason being that it was believed to be haunted.

Sir Canterville declared this upfront to Mr Otis, who discarding the haunted castle rumors offered to buy both the castle and ghost – at valuation.

Mr. Otis moved into the castle with his wife, his son (Washington), his daughter (Virginia) and his two younger twins and were greeted by the castle housekeeper, Mrs. Umney.

They noticed the blood stain in the hall and Mrs. Umney let them know that it was from when Sir Canterville brutally murdered his wife.

The family was far from spooked by this – rather proceeding to grab their cleaning supplies to scrub that spot right off the floor.

The stain came right off.

The following days, the blood stain re-appeared – although what was noticeable was that blood stain had different hues each time.

The family finally accepted there might be some truth to the rumors, but still went about their business as usual.

The ghost finally made an appearance one night and Mr Otis was the one to see him, but instead of being scared – he requested  that he put some oil into the chains so that he didn’t make so much noise while walking around in the night.

The ghost was surprised, as this was not the normal reaction he was accustomed to. Never in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years, had he been so grossly insulted.

Taking this as an insult to his natural scaring power, he took it upon himself to make even bigger spectacles – what went on in the following days was actually opposite to what he imagined.

The kids attacked him pea shooters, and played elaborate pranks on him – on one occasion even scaring with a replica skeleton. Insulted and tired, the ghost eventually retired to his own room – feeling even more depressed.

Viriginia, Mr Otis’ daughter found him one day and was pained to see the ghost, visibly sad and distraught – who told her that he was very tired and had not slept in three hundred years.

He asked for her help – knowing that she had a compassionate heart – unlike the rest of her treacherous family.

She agreed to help him, although she was terrified of what lied ahead. They disappeared into a garden of death. 

Desperate search ensued to find Virginia – who was nowhere to be found. The family was distraught, as was the Duke of Cheshire, who had been courting Virginia for quite some time now.

Her mother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, when Virginia finally came back to the house. She let the family know that Sir Simon Canterville, the ghost, was now at rest.

The ghost, in turn, had left her a box of rare jewels as a gift for her help.

Although Virginia never told anyone what happened in the garden of death, she always remembered Sir Simon with love and was thankful for sharing the wisdom:

Love is stronger than life and death.

Want to read The Canterville Ghost?

The Canterville Ghost is a short story which is published in a collection of short stories. You are welcome to use the links given below to check the price of this book:

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The Canterville Ghost: Review and My Thoughts

The story is a delightful read – more so because it did not turn out to be a tale of horror – which if truth be told, I do not have a stomach for.

Although the story still had a very profound message at the end, it was the characteristic humor that stood out for me.

So, you are buying a house and the first thing someone told you was that it was haunted.

What would your reaction be?

Mr Otis’ reaction on hearing this news was priceless.

I will take the furniture and the ghost at a valuation, answered the minister.

I wonder what Sir Canterville would have thought in his head, when he listened to that.

Not only that, he made it plainly clear that an incident or a commodity of that nature, if known in America, would be a rage.

I reckoned if there were such a thing as a ghost in Europe, we’d have it home in a very short time in one of our public museums, or on the road as a show.

Thinking that Mr Otis was not able to fully understand the gravity of situation at his hand, Sir Canterville made another attempt to explain.

The ghost has been well known for three centuries and always makes an appearance before the death of any member of the family, 

To which Mr Otis, quickly remarked – So does the family doctor for that matter

One hell of a lesson in lateral thinking, isn’t it?

There is no such thing as a ghost and I guess the laws of nature are not going to be suspended for the British Aristocracy.

Quite a jab at the British aristocracy there! 

British never seem to have seen eye to eye on their language:

… We really have everything in common with America nowadays, except of course, the language.

The story is replete with differences in the British and American culture, a product, I suppose, of Wilde’s experiences in America on his lecture tours there. He pays a little homage to H.W. Longfellow as well, a celebrated American poet.

Consider this –

He had hoped that even Modern Americans would be thrilled by the sight of a spectre in armour, if for no more sensible reason , at least out of respect for their national poet Longfellow, over whose graceful and attractive poetry he himself had whiled away many a weary hour when the Canterville were up in town.

Although this was a ghost story, I was still surprised to know that our ghost had actually killed his wife (I know people can be stupid, right?) for a reason that was even more surprising than the act itself – she was plain looking and didn’t cook well.

But having been rebuked by Virginia for that, he simply responds with-

Oh, I hate the cheap severity of abstract ethics

Made me think.

That is after picked myself up from the floor laughing.


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