The Canterville Ghost

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Canterville Ghost: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A few days go by, and Virginia—who has been out in the fields with the Duke of Cheshire—stumbles upon Sir Simon as he sits staring out a window in a funk. She tells the ghost that she’s sorry for him, and that her brothers will soon be leaving to go to school for the fall, granting him a respite. She chastises him, too, for killing his wife and behaving in a generally “wicked” fashion.
Here, as before, there’s a general downplaying of Sir Simon’s crimes. He murdered his wife and has since been the cause of multiple suicides—a fact in which he takes great pride. Virginia’s gentle chastising, however, doesn’t seem out of place given the work Wilde has done to humanize Sir Simon.
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Sir Simon replies that, while it wasn’t nice to kill his wife, he had his reasons—though he doesn’t give them. At any rate, he says, it wasn’t nice of his wife’s brothers to starve him to death as revenge, which is what made him a ghost. Surprised and saddened by the revelation that Sir Simon was starved, Virginia offers the ghost a sandwich.
The cause of Sir Simon’s death has never been revealed prior to this moment. It’s shocking, but its impact is lessened somewhat by the fact that it was only Sir Simon’s body that died. His ghost has led a very full life in the three-hundred years since. Meanwhile, by offering Sir Simon a sandwich, Virginia humanizes the ghost and shows him compassion and kindness—a sharp contrast from the treatment he’s received from the rest of the Otises.
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Sir Simon appreciates the gesture but declines Virginia’s sandwich. He tells her that she’s much nicer than her horrid family, but Virginia will hear nothing of it. She tells the ghost that he’s the one that’s been horrid: especially since he’s been stealing her craft paints in order to renew the bloodstain on the fireplace night after night. By constantly depleting her supply of colors, he’s made it impossible for her to paint the things she’d like. She adds that many of the colors to which Sir Simon resorted, such as emerald green, were ridiculous. Sir Simon, however, retorts that the Cantervilles themselves have blue blood.
“Blue blood” is an idiom used to refer to aristocrats. It’s believed that European aristocrats, who were exclusively white, prided themselves on the way that their veins were visible on their pale arms. Since the blood flowing through veins is oxygen-depleted, it appears blue. For those with darker skin (due to race or sun exposure from outdoor labor), veins aren’t as visible, so the aristocrats believed themselves alone to possess this “blue blood.”
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Virginia suggests that Sir Simon might prefer to immigrate to America, but the ghost doesn’t think he’d like it there. Instead, he asks Virginia to stay and talk with him for a while longer. He needs her help, he says, so that he can finally get some sleep after three long centuries without it. Sir Simon proceeds to tell Virginia about an ancient prophecy that states that a little golden-haired child (like Virginia) can bring peace to Canterville Chase. All she has to do is weep for Sir Simon and pray for the forgiveness of his sins. If it works, she’ll know, because an old almond tree on the property will bloom. 
This is an example of a literary device known as deus ex machina. These occur when a writer seems to have backed himself into a corner, plot-wise, and has to invent a way out for his characters. They’re readily identifiable by how forced and unnatural they feel—as the sudden appearance of this prophecy does. Still, Wilde couldn’t have introduced the prophecy any earlier, or the ending of the story would have been far too obvious. 
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Get the entire The Canterville Ghost LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Virginia agrees to help, though Sir Simon warns her that it might be scary. Together, they disappear into an unknown portion of the house. Along the way, the animals carved into the fireplace and the huntsmen embroidered into the home’s tapestries are suddenly brought to life and warn her to turn back. However, she continues.
For a story whose main character is a three-hundred-year-old ghost, Wilde does a remarkable job of making this moment seem at once magical and dangerous. The reader feels compassion for Sir Simon but at the same time wonders if he can be trusted, considering he is a murderer.
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