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Friday, January 11, 2013

The Canterville Ghost - Study Guide 3 - Story Highlights

                              Focus on Humour

  In this book Oscar Wilde trasforms a horror atmosphere in a comic story; in all the chapters the ghost undergoes humiliation and jokes from the  Otis family.
The author uses also the difference between English mentality and American mentality to create some comic parts of the book:
England is an ancient country, so English people beleve in traditions and legends, instead, the USA is a modern country and people are more realistic so they face the strange and unusual situations differently.
E.g. - offering the medicine and lubricating oil, cleaning up the ominous bloodstain, children's pranks.

These particular devices make this book a mix of horror and comic and it has an important  moral: “He made me see what Life is, and what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both.', Virginia says at the end.

In “ The Canterville Ghost “ , Oscar Wilde makes the criticism of the American culture .
Since the first chapter, he describes and compares it with the British culture .
The American people are more connected to the progress, the technology, the industry, and they believe in the values that this culture produces .
These people are pragmatic, rational , material; they don’t believe in ghosts , in the occult .
The only thing in which they believe is the power of reason and….money. We can see this throughout the book, in particular in the first chapter when Mr. Otis buys the Canterville Chase: for example Mr Otis says “ I come from a modern country , where we have everything that money can buy “.
The British culture is different. These people are more connected to other values that are not in the American conscience, for example tradition intended both as history and legend and consequently also superstition and popular beliefs .

American ways
English ways

money the most important thing
social position the most important thing

status achieved by individual effort
status achieved by birth

no time for ghosts
moving because of the ghost

nothing is impossible
tradition cannot be interfered with

cannot be frightened
easy to frighten

no history or tradition
plenty of history and tradition

believe in the simple life and hard work
jewels important to the upper class

Instances of Suspense
Suspense devices
Oscar Wilde introduces some suspense to make this book more involving and exciting. These suspense parts serve to make this funny book also a horror book and, in conclusion, we can say that it is a comic - horror book.

In the first chapter a terrible lighting terrorizes Mrs. Umney and she faints.

“…a terrible flash of lightning lit up the sombre room, a fearful peal of thunder made them all start to their feet, and Mrs. Umney fainted…”

In the second chapter when the ghost appears for the first time and he makes a very strange noise and he wakes up all the Otis family.

“…The strange noise still continued, and with it he heard distinctly the sound of footsteps. He put on his slippers, took a small oblong phial out of his dressing-case, and opened the door. Right in front of him he saw, in the wan moonlight, an old man of terrible aspect. His eyes were as red burning coals; long grey hair fell over his shoulders in matted coils; his garments, which were of antique cut, were soiled and ragged, and from his wrists and ankles hung heavy manacles and rusty gyves…”

In the third chapter the ghost makes an inhuman yell that peals in the castle.

 “…had gone to bed they were suddenly alarmed by a fearful crash in the hall. Rushing downstairs, they found that a large suit of old armour had become detached from its stand, and had fallen on the stone floor, while, seated in a high-backed chair, was the Canterville ghost, rubbing his knees with an expression of acute agony on his face…”

In the fifth chapter the ghost brings Virginia through the wall, in fact she trusts the ghost even when she doesn't know where he wants to take her, so the reader waits for the destiny of the girl.
“...the Ghost clutched her hand more tightly, and she shut her eyes against them. Horrible animals with lizard tails, and goggle eyes, blinked at her from the carven chimney-piece, and murmured 'Beware! little Virginia, beware! we may never see you again,' but the Ghost glided on more swiftly, and Virginia did not listen. When they reached the end of the room he stopped, and muttered some words she could not understand. She opened her eyes, and saw the wall slowly fading away like a mist, and a great black cavern in front of her. A bitter cold wind swept round them, and she felt something pulling at her dress. 'Quick, quick,' cried the Ghost, 'or it will be too late,' and, in a moment, the wainscoting had closed behind them, and the Tapestry Chamber was empty…”.

Practical jokes played on the ghost by children

·         throw a pillow at his head
·         they make a pretend ghost out of a brush, a bed sheet and a pumpkin and leave it in the middle of the corridor
·         put things in his way so he would fall over them in the dark
·         put butter at the top of some stairs
·         place a container of ice-cold water on top of the slightly open door to their bedroom
·         hide in a dark corner in the library, wait until the ghost appears and then jump out and shout ‘Boo!’; Washington is ready to hose him with the garden hosepipe

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