The Canterville Ghost

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Canterville Ghost: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, the whole family openly discusses Sir Simon. Mr. Otis is upset to discover that Sir Simon hasn’t taken the bottle of lubricating oil. He insists that if the ghost refuses to quiet his chains, they’ll be taken away from him. Mr. Otis does chastise the twins for throwing pillows at Sir Simon, but they only laugh at their father.
How Mr. Otis plans to take the chains away from Sir Simon isn’t entirely clear. However, his confidence echoes his earlier assertion that Americans could place a ghost in a museum.
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A few days go by without incident, except that the bloodstain on the fireplace—which Washington still scrubs clean daily—changes colors every morning, so that it seems quite unnatural at times. Overall, the Otis family seems amused by this new occurrence. They even make bets on what color the stain might be the following day. Virginia, however, fails to share in their mirth. Instead, she encounters the stain each morning sadly, and she (inexplicably) comes quite close to tears the morning that it turns green.
There’s a kind of hilarity in imagining Sir Simon painting the blood stain anew each night. But there’s a less pointed jab at the Americans here, too. They’re so certain that they understand everything at first glance, that they never realize—with the exception of Virginia—that the “blood” they’re cleaning up is actually paint.
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Finally, Sir Simon decides again to scare the family. He hopes to accomplish this by donning his old suit of armor as a costume. He accidentally knocks into the armor, however, causing it to tumble over with a loud crash. The Otis family, assuming a robbery is underway, run downstairs to find Sir Simon rubbing his knees in pain. Before they realize who it is, however, the twins shoot the ghost with their toy guns, and Mr. Otis levels a real gun at him, demanding that Sir Simon put his hands in the air.
This moment serves as a perfect microcosm of the British-American confrontation that Wilde presents as the novella unfolds. Sir Simon attempts to terrify the Otis family in a clunky, antique suit of armor. Mr. Otis, conversely, does the job of protecting his family with a modern firearm. It’s quite clear which prevails. In addition, Sir Simon’s suit of armor emphasizes his status as a stuffy aristocrat, while Mr. Otis’ gun underscores his stereotypical Americanness.
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Again, Sir Simon flees in a mix of anger and dismay, but he manages to collect his wits at the top of the stairs. He attempts one last scare by unleashing his best maniacal laugh (which is described as “demoniacal”) on the family. The only response, however, is from Mrs. Otis, who is afraid that the ghost isn’t feeling well and offers him a bottle of medicine. Enraged at this affront, Sir Simon ponders taking the form of a large black dog to scare Mrs. Otis—he remembers that this has worked well for him in the past against the current Lord Canterville’s uncle. However, as Mr. Otis and the twins are quickly approaching, Sir Simon instead grumpily resorts to walking through walls in order to again hide in his room.
Mrs. Otis thinks that Sir Simon has an upset stomach brought on by indigestion. This would be particularly insulting to the ghost (albeit unintentionally), as we learn later that Sir Simon was starved to death and has, indeed, been unable to eat for some three centuries. Whereas Mrs. Otis blindly offers him medicine, her daughter, Virginia, shows far greater insight and compassion into the ghost’s plight by offering him a sandwich later in the novella.
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Alone with his thoughts, Sir Simon reveals that he didn’t knock the armor over, but rather that it had become too heavy for him to wear. He fell over when he attempted to stand with it on, thus creating the loud crash and banging his knees. He’s quite disappointed in this, because he expected the Americans to be impressed by a ghost in armor, “at least out of respect for their natural poet Longfellow.” This failure, combined with the continued disrespect shown to him by the Americans, causes Sir Simon to stay in bed for a few days.
Wilde met Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1882, the year that Longfellow died and some five years prior to the publication of The Canterville Ghost. Longfellow described Wilde as a “very agreeable and intelligent young man.” Longfellow himself, while an exceptionally popular American poet, was generally thought of as being more aligned with European styles and subjects.
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In bed, Sir Simon hatches his newest, best plan for scaring the Otis family. He assembles an elaborate costume complete with a rusty dagger. He plans to sneak into Washington’s room, wake him, and then stab himself in the neck three times while Washington watches. Sir Simon says that he chose Washington for this grotesque display because he’s particularly mad at Washington for constantly cleaning the bloodstain from the fireplace.
It’s not particularly clear why Sir Simon expects Washington to be suddenly terrified, when he (like the rest of the Otis family) has been consistently indifferent to Sir Simon’s scares. Regardless, Sir Simon stabs himself with a dagger in an attempt to frighten the boy. However, this is unlikely to scare the practical Americans, as Sir Simon—being dead—is past all danger of physical harm. 
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Once he’s done with Washington, Sir Simon plans to scare Mr. and Mrs. Otis by touching them with his ghostly hands and whispering to them secrets from the “charnel house”—that is, secrets from the grave. He intends to sit on the twins’ chests until they’re paralyzed with fear before crawling about the room in the role of “Dumb Daniel” or “Martin the Maniac.” He has planned little for Virginia, however, because she never harasses him and has a gentle nature.
Generally, in literature, secrets from the grave are strictly off limits for the living. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet’s father tells him that, were Hamlet to hear these secrets, Hamlet’s blood would freeze, his eyes would pop out of their sockets, and every piece of his hair would stand on end.
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As Sir Simon walks down the hallway to begin his plans, though, he stumbles across a monstrous specter that scares him out of his wits. Since he has never seen a ghost before (though he is one), Sir Simon doesn’t know what to do, so he again flees to his bedroom to hide under his blankets—losing his rusty dagger in the process. 
Despite all of his efforts to frighten the Otis family, Sir Simon is the only person in Canterville Chase that’s scared.
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After some thought, Sir Simon remembers that he is a ghost and should therefore not be afraid of other ghosts. He even ponders forming an alliance with the new ghoul to terrorize the Otis family. However, by the time he decides to try this plan, the sun has started to rise, filling the hallway with light. The extra illumination helps Sir Simon to see that the other ghost was a fake, set up by the Otis family as a kind of scarecrow. They’ve even put their own merchandise tag on it: “Ye Otis Ghoste, Ye Onlie True and Originale Spook, Beware of Ye Imitationes. All others are counterfeite.”
It’s interesting that the Otises choose to patent their “ghost” with an attempt at Middle English, despite America having very little claim to that language at all (modern English having fully emerged by the beginning of the eighteenth century). It serves as a laughing reminder that Sir Simon, who died in the 1500s, would have spoken a very different English altogether from that of the Otis family.
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Truly upset by this tactic, Sir Simon vows that, after the rooster had crowed twice that morning, “deeds of blood would be wrought, and murder walk abroad with silent feet.” This, Sir Simon has read in ancient books, is an oath long used by his family. Every time it has been uttered by a Canterville, the rooster has crowed twice and the oath has been fulfilled. Today, however, the rooster only crows once. Instead of enacting deeds of blood, Sir Simon retires to a lead coffin for the day.
This mention of an ancient family oath seems abrupt, and it foreshadows a similarly abrupt moment detailing a centuries-old prophesy later in the novella. Furthermore, Wilde confusingly refers to the rooster as Chanticleer, which is the name of the rooster in a series of allegories starring a trickster fox named Reynard. These allegories were often used to spoof politics. 
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