The Canterville Ghost


Oscar Wilde

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Themes and Colors
The British Aristocracy vs. American Vulgarity Theme Icon
Commercialism and Politics Theme Icon
Mercy and Empathy Theme Icon
Appearance, Reality, and Sincerity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Canterville Ghost, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The British Aristocracy vs. American Vulgarity

The Canterville Ghost was written in 1887, during England’s Victorian era. This was a period when the English aristocracy began to see its long-held power in society diminish as the new middle class gained wealth and status. While many writers of the period imagined the aristocracy falling to the rising British middle class, The Canterville Ghost depicts irrelevant and powerless aristocrats succumbing to an even worse fate: ceding their place in society to Americans, the…

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Commercialism and Politics

Around 1850, a new method for manufacturing paper made paper both cheaper to produce and cheaper to buy. In turn, books (which were previously luxury items) became much more accessible to everyday people, which led to booming book sales and made companies want to advertise in them. When The Canterville Ghost was printed, it was common for popular books to contain product advertisements tipped into the beginning or end, and sometimes even woven into the…

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Mercy and Empathy

In a biting exchange between Sir Simon and Virginia Otis, the ghost tells the girl that he doubts that he would enjoy living in America. Virginia suspects that this is because America lacks the ruins and curiosities of England, but Sir Simon admonishes her: “No ruins! No curiosities! [Y]ou have your navy and your manners.” While the audience is surely tickled by this bit of humor, Virginia is insulted by it and makes to…

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Appearance, Reality, and Sincerity

During one of Sir Simon’s more ambitious attempts to scare the Otis family, he finds himself face-to-face with a ghost and flees (as he so often does) in terror. Later, after considering that he himself is a ghost, and as such has no need to fear other ghosts, he returns to introduce himself to the specter. He discovers, to his surprise, that the “ghost” from which he fled was little more than a hodgepodge…

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