These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
The titular character has at various times in history engaged in the act of haunting his ancestral home—Canterville Chase—under a selection of different sobriquets over the centuries from the relatively innocuous The Headless Earl to the downright wicked-sound Gaunt Gibeon, the Blood-sucker of Bexley Moor. Whatever the name applies to his spectral resurrection, it always comes back to the spirit of the same non-ethereal personage of Sir Simon Canterville who met a violent death at the hands of his brothers-in-law as retributive justice for murdering their sister.
Yes, Virginia Otis is an American. A fifteen year old American girl who rather astonishingly combines extraordinary physical beauty with extraordinarily puritanical character. The former attribute thoroughly charms the Duke of Cheshire while the latter is the source of frustration. Virginia is a bit of out an outlier at first compared to the rest of her family’s reaction to the ghost. She is rather content to simply try helping Sir Simon overcome the rattle of his chains and the unpleasantness of his scratchy manner of speaking. Virginia is the redemptive spirit in this ghostly tale with the ghost taking on the role of the cranky old man in need of purification.
Ultimately the lovesick puppy-like Cecil, Duke of Cheshire, wins the heart of the object of his affection. Upon hearing that Virginia has vanished without a trace, he races back to Canterville Chase from the campus of Eton to join the desperate search. Such devotion is assuredly deserving of a reward and he and Virginia marry. Though rewarded with her heart, he is now allowed access to her one great secret and must live without ever knowing exactly what happened during her disappearance with the Canterville Ghost.
Horace is Virginia’s dad and he fits the British stereotype of the loud, pragmatic and rather unimaginative American which was the predominant image among Britons at the time. Wilde’s novel exists more to satirize certain stereotypes than to scare readers and Horace Otis fills that bill to a tee, especially when his reaction to a traditional Victorian ghost is the suggestion that invest in some lubricant to keep those chains quite at night.
Sir Simon’s take Mrs. Otis is that she is representative of the crass materialism that differentiates an American of means from the refinement that characters member of the British aristocracy. He’s right, of course, but his means of arriving at this particular definition of her character is as misplaced as those that other Britons use to stereotype Americans…and vice versa. What is most frustrating to the ghost, of course, is that Lucretia seems remarkably unaffected by his best attempts to scare the crude interlopers from across the pond out of his distinctly British domicile.
The rather peculiar appellation applied to the youngest members of the Otis household: the twins. These twins are not nearly as frightening as those in The Shining, but infinitely more irritating. They are the ultimate personification of the image of the American child raised without benefit of proper English discipline. Hellions, they are, who regularly assault the ghost with weapons like peashooters and nuts lobbed in his direction. The Stars and Stripes also represent the flip side of the American character; their wildness directly allows them to express the creative spark within by actually creating their own ghost using things found around the castle.
In "The Canterville Ghost," Virginia is the only member of the family who shows no interest in the ghost at all. She does not bother him nor does she try to remove the blood-stain in the library, like the other members of her family. This demonstrates her unprejudiced and inclusive attitude towards others: she not only accepts the ghost as a fellow inhabitant of the house but she respects his historic position.
Secondly, Virginia is kind-hearted, as we see in Chapter Five when she meets the Canterville ghost in person. When he tells her that he was starved to death, for example, she offers him a sandwich from her case. In addition, when the ghost says that he has not slept for three hundred years and is very tired, her reaction provides further evidence of her kind and gentle nature:
Virginia grew quite grave, and her little lips trembled like rose-leaves.
Finally, Virginia is helpful and generous, even when her safety is in peril. This is shown by her willingness to help the ghost, even though she is warned against it:
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."