Character Analysis in The Canterville Ghost

Sir Simon: Sir Simon Canterville murdered his wife and then was starved to death by her brothers. For the ensuing three hundred years, Sir Simon has haunted his old mansion, frightening each guest and relishing his role as resident ghost. However, he has no such luck scaring the matter-of-fact Otis family. After being belittled and pranked, Sir Simon becomes the object of sympathy and seems to redeem himself through his relationship with Virginia.

Virginia: Virginia is the fearless and empathetic fifteen-year-old daughter of the Otis family. She likes to paint, and is annoyed when Sir Simon steals her bright colors, forcing her to only paint gloomy landscapes. Virginia shows sympathy for Sir Simon, and at his bequest, prays for forgiveness for his soul. Virginia accompanies Sir Simon into another dimension, but upon her return does not disclose what she saw there. Instead, Virginia merely states that she learned great lessons about love and life.

Mr. Horace B Otis: Mr Otis is the patriarch of the Otis family. He is portrayed as a no-nonsense American man. When Sir Simon is rattling his chains in an attempt to scare the family, Mr. Otis offers him some greasy lubricant for the metal, and chides him for making so much noise.

Duke of Cheshire: The Duke of Cheshire is the boyish Duke who falls desperately in love with Virginia Otis. Although he is sent off to Eton, he returns to join the search party for Virginia when she goes missing. Virginia agrees to marry the Duke when she returns from the other dimension.

Character Analysis Examples in The Canterville Ghost:

Chapter I. 3
"the only true..."   (Chapter I.)

Wilde calls the Minister and the twin boys "the only true republicans of the family" to emphasize that some members of the family identify more with the United States while others have a closer affinity for England and Europe.

"his only weaknesses..."   (Chapter I.)

That is, Washington is a very gifted athletic and natural diplomat, but he is susceptible to the influence of titles, the aristocracy, and has a particular love of gardenia flowers—which really isn't a weakness, but Wilde humorously suggests it to be out of character with Washington's other traits.

"I have come from a modern country..."   (Chapter I.)

Mr. Otis establishes himself as a skeptic at the beginning of the story, preferring to rely on his practical, American sensibilities rather than listen to stories of ghosts. His attitude likely represents the perceived attitudes of Americans at the time, who valued items based on their ability to be purchased. He reasons that since no one has bought a ghost, they must not be real.

"All his great achievements came back to him again..."   (Chapter II.)

Notice that in recalling his "great achievements" and relishing in his artful performances as a ghost, Sir Simon doesn't express any sympathy or remorse for his victims. In addition to killing his wife, Sir Simon is responsible for several other deaths as well. He apparently has not sought atonement or forgiveness since his death.

"With the enthusiastic egotism of the true artist..."   (Chapter II.)

Wilde reveals Sir Simon, the ghost, to be a true artist completely devoted to the aesthetics of his craft, which in this case is creating and spreading terror. The ghost has no reasons behind his art, and he seeks no objective over than perfecting the beauty of it. This approach to art and aesthetics was known as Decadence. Wilde shares these traits with his creation and was a leading member of the Decadent movement in the 19th century.

"I really must insist on your oiling those chains..."   (Chapter II.)

Similar to his son Washington's approach with the detergent, Mr. Otis also provides a chemical solution to the "problem" of the ghost. He fails to appreciate or recognize the ghost's efforts to scare him, highlighting the differences in how the ghost and the Otises value and understand aesthetics. For the ghost, rattling chains is part of the art of being a ghost, but for Mr. Otis, the rattling chains are problems meant to be solved.

"by long and careful practice on a writing-master..."   (Chapter III.)

Since pea-shooters are simple, small, and concealable, Wilde is pointing out that they have a strong association with classroom pranks and tricks that students often played on their teachers. This strongly suggests that the twins are mischievous children who delight in poking fun at others. They take particular pleasure in trying to prank the ghost.

"I am not afraid..."   (Chapter V.)

Virginia fearlessly resolves to help Sir Simon. Her actions serve as point of reconciliation between American and British values because Virginia has accepted the aesthetics of the ghost and combined them with her own American practicality and hope for a better future. Wilde uses her as a character open to the past and present, one who can atone for ancient sins and represent a optimistic future.

"and could only do moonlight scenes..."   (Chapter V.)

This line reveals that Virginia, like Sir Simon, is an artist and more understanding of his understanding of aesthetics. Even as Sir Simon stole her paints, she continued her art, working with the materials she had available even if it compelled her to paint gloomy, depressing scenes.