The Canterville Ghost

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Canterville Ghost: Chapter 4  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sir Simon spends the next week in bed as a result of his failures, the counterfeit ghost, and the strange failure of the rooster to crow twice. He gives up on refreshing the bloodstain on the fireplace, deciding that the Otis family isn’t worthy of his scares after all. There’s still a few ghostly duties he feels bound by tradition and decorum to perform—appearing in a window to frighten any passersby on the “first and third Wednesdays in every month,” for instance—but he’s given up entirely on trying to scare the Americans.
The ceremony of scaring passersby on specific Wednesdays seems strange, and the mystery of how it began is entirely unknowable. The same can also be said for much of the tradition and pomp of the aristocracy, who are also participants in esoteric, seemingly bizarre, traditions and rituals.
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When these duties require Sir Simon to use his chains in the hallway, he makes sure to remove his shoes and to oil the chains well before beginning, so as not to awaken anyone. In spite of these precautions, however, the twins still won’t leave Sir Simon alone. They prepare a series of booby traps that leave the ghost battered, bruised, and indignant.
By making the ghost strangely susceptible to physical injury, Wilde enables the audience to feel sad for him on a new level. Not only is he a once-proud man facing the irrelevance of (especially) old age, he’s now also being battered. 
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These traps include strings being stretched across the corridor for Sir Simon to trip over, as well as the construction of a slide greased with butter constructed to cause the ghost to tumble down the stairs. This last attempt so injures and enrages Sir Simon that he prepares one final attempt at scaring the twins.
Despite the injuries Sir Simon incurs to himself as a result of the twins’ long torment of him, and despite Sir Simon’s equally long history of bloodshed, Wilde never suggests that the ghost wishes actual physical harm on the young boys.
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Sir Simon ruminates for a long time on how best to accomplish this task. Ultimately, he decides on “Reckless Rupert, or the Headless Earl,” a scare that has been particularly successful in the past. The costume is quite elaborate, and it’s been so long since he last used it that he has to search all over the house to assemble it all. Finally, however, he gathers the ensemble together and approaches the twins’ room. Flinging the door open with the hope of catching them by surprise, Sir Simon instead finds himself doused with a giant bowl of water—another booby trap set by the twins. As the twins laugh at their success, Sir Simon again flees.
While Sir Simon is a ghost, he nevertheless has his own bedroom at Canterville Chase, and all of his props are real, tangible objects that exist somewhere in the same place that the Otis family lives—yet they never stumble on them. It’s important to remember that Sir Simon has lived in the estate for centuries and knows its various hiding places far better than the Otises ever will. This must be particularly infuriating for him, as they nevertheless now own the home.
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As a result of being soaked, Sir Simon comes down with a cold and resigns himself, again, to leaving the Otis family alone. He walks the hallways now in slippers, bundled up to avoid making his cold worse, and carrying an antique gun for protection. Nevertheless, one night while Sir Simon is walking the halls, reminiscing about his haunting past, the twins and Washington attempt to trap Sir Simon. He resorts to fleeing through the flues of Canterville Chase’s woodstove. He arrives back at his room dirty and in a state of despair.
With this latest setback, Sir Simon continues on his drastic devolution from a hale and hearty ghost, seemingly in the prime of his afterlife, to a fragile, timid old man. Note that he’s resorted to the American mode of defense by giving up his daggers and armor for a pistol. This, along with the decision to use the lubricating oil, is one of many concessions the aristocratic ghost has made to American vulgarity. 
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Afterwards, Sir Simon gives up all of his ghostly duties. This does not, however, dissuade the twins from their efforts to taunt the ghost. They continue to lay traps for him, but, as Sir Simon is no longer walking the halls, the traps only annoy the rest of the family and the house’s servants. The Otis family come to believe that Sir Simon has gone away.
Earlier, when Mr. Otis tried to admonish the twins for their behavior earlier, they simply laughed at him. Here, they seem entirely out of control. The elaborate traps they set create a mess and a nuisance.
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After Sir Simon’s disappearance, the Otis family begins to live their life normally. Mr. Otis resumes writing a book on the history of the Democratic party. Mrs. Otis organizes a clam bake. Washington and the twins play card games, and Virginia rides her pony. Mr. Otis is so sure that Sir Simon is gone, he writes a triumphant letter to Lord Canterville about Sir Simon’s departure.
Wilde’s description of the family’s normal life is rich and, like his characterization of the family itself, decidedly American. One thing ties them together firmly to the aristocracy here, however: no one seems to be working for a living.
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A visit from a friend of the Canterville family, the young Duke of Cheshire (whose family Sir Simon has terrorized for centuries during such visits), is almost enough to inspire the ghost—said to be “almost an invalid” at this point—to action. However, at the last minute he is overcome by fear of the twins and cancels the planned haunt. The young Duke instead goes to sleep and dreams about Virginia.
A feature of a large part of Victorian literature is the so-called “marriage plot,” a subplot which the Duke and Virginia begin here. This mention of the dream would have been a near certain indicator to Wilde’s readers that the story would end with Victoria and the Duke marrying.
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