One aspect of “The Canterville Ghost” that I found intriguing was the theatrical element of the ghost’s haunting techniques. There are many instances where it seems like the ghost is putting on a show for whomever happens to be living in the house. For example, when the ghost recounts his many achievements, it often sounds like he is listing off parts he has acted out. He says, “in the character of ‘Dumb Daniel, or the Suicide’s Skeleton,’ a role in which he had on more than one occasion produced a great effect, and which he considered quite equal to his famous part of ‘Martin the Maniac, or the Masked Mystery…” Typically, a ghost is thought to be the spirit of someone who has died and they haunt the living as representations of themselves. However, this ghost seems to have many characters he can play on a whim. It seems like he is an actor more than a vengeful spirit. He even wears costumes. Wilde writes, “[he] spent most of his day in looking over his wardrobe.” Wilde makes this theatrical connection explicit when he writes, “It was, however, extremely difficult ‘make-up,’ if I may use such a theatrical expression in connection with one of the greatest mysteries of the supernatural…” The ghost’s hauntings are always meticulously planned out and dramatic. He assumes many different characters that he has seemed to have perfected over the centuries. Rather than just being himself, which in my opinion would be scary enough, he adopts another guise and makes a show of it. It seems less genuine and less “real.” Why go to the trouble?
One thought the came to my mind was that maybe the ghost is a symbol for tradition, especially in England. Even though it is not necessary, the ghost still puts on a show for those in the house. He even sees it as his duty. Wilde writes, “It was his solemn duty to appear in the corridor once a week… and he did not see how he could honorably escape from his obligations.” Even though it is more troublesome to appear as a different character and by the end the ghost no longer wants to haunt the house at all, he feels that he absolutely must continue. The story is an allegory representing the clash of “modern America” and “traditional England.” The theatrical part of the display seems to represent the futility and uselessness in many traditions, but whether or not they serve a function they must be continued for the sake of tradition. This value seems to be lost on the American new-comers which is why they do not appreciate the ghost’s theatrics. Rather than running and screaming, they pull out their Pinkerton’s. IPN