The Canterville Ghost

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Canterville Ghost: Chapter 2  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, the Otis family discovers that Washington’s cleaning job didn’t stick: the bloodstain has come back overnight. Washington again cleans the stain, but it comes back the next morning, and again on the third morning, as well. Mr. Otis begins to wonder if he was too quick to dismiss Lord Canterville’s warnings about a ghost. Mrs. Otis ponders joining a spiritualist society and Washington writes two long, academic letters on the topic of spiritual bloodstains. By the end of the day, they’ve all come to accept that there is a ghost, but they go on living their lives as though this fact changed nothing.
Spiritualism, the belief that the spirit continues to live after its body dies, was a surprisingly prevalent belief in the Victorian era. Photographic prints purporting to have captured ghosts were especially popular, as were seances. Queen Victoria herself was something of a spiritualist, believing that her late husband, Prince Albert, had contacted her from beyond the grave. Notably, the Americans take an empiricist approach to the phenomenon, here.   
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That night, Sir Simon de Canterville makes his first ghostly appearance. He’s decided to try to scare the family by walking up and down the halls of Canterville Chase while dragging old, rusty chains behind him. He’s waited until one o’clock in the morning to do this, well after the family has gone to sleep. His efforts have an immediate effect: Mr. Otis is awakened at the first sound.
Sir Simon is taking part in a long-standing tradition of ghosts rattling chains. However, unlike Jacob Marley, the ghost in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, who wears the chains he forged for himself in life as a kind of penance, Sir Simon’s are simply a costume. He can get rid of them whenever he’d like.
Themes
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Mr. Otis is unimpressed by Sir Simon’s act, however; he comes out from the bedroom to calmly offer Sir Simon a bottle of Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator, which he claims will quiet the ghost’s chains so that the family can sleep. Sir Simon, made terribly angry by this gesture, smashes the bottle on the floor and storms off down the hallway. There, he’s accosted by the twins who have dressed themselves as ghosts by wearing sheets over their heads. They throw pillows at Sir Simon, who only manages to get away by walking through a wall.
It’s hard to say why a ghost should be so dismayed by a pair of young boys wielding pillows. It’s likely that the problem isn’t the violence the boys intend to do to Sir Simon (who, after all, is dead) that frightens him. Rather, it is their sheer rudeness and vulgarity that causes him to draw back in a panic. In addition, The Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator that Mr. Simon brandishes alludes to Tammany Hall, an American political machine, thus gesturing to the novella’s political and social underpinnings.  
Themes
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Alone in his hidden, secret chamber of a bedroom, Sir Simon considers what has just happened. He is angry and shaken up, though his memories of all his past haunting successes (gained over the course of three centuries) help calm him down and focus him. These successes include some simple frights, such as appearing quickly before aristocrats like the Dowager Duchess. However, they also include some far more serious scares that resulted in the death of the individual being haunted, such as that of Lady Stutfield, who killed herself after Sir Simon’s specter grabbed her by the neck. 
As it was when the reader learned that Sir Simon murdered his wife, it’s easy to forget that Sir Simon has this blood on his hands. These intense frights, which resulted in the suicide of their victims, definitely seem at odds with the far more staid Sir Simon the Otis family encounters. This, no doubt, is a testament to the fading importance of the aristocracy (and, it would seem, its ghosts).
Themes
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Sir Simon says (to himself) that he’s quite sure no ghost has ever been treated so poorly in the history of all of England, and he declares that he won’t allow such treatment to continue. He vows revenge against the upstart Americans.
There is a slight echo here from the American Revolution, where the American military used unconventional tactics to beat the British. No one had ever treated the British army that way, either.
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