Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

"The Canterville Ghost:" Sir Simon as Wilde's Mouthpiece for Criticism and Compromise

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

"The Canterville Ghost:" Sir Simon as Wilde's Mouthpiece for Criticism and Compromise

Article excerpt


The paper explores Oscar Wilde's "The Cantervill Ghost" with view at showing how the author employs the figure of Sir Simon to convey messages of both criticism and compromise concerning the Anglo-American conflict at that time. Through Simon, Wilde rejects the stereotypical view of the Americans and passionately looks for compromise.

Key words: The Canterville Ghost; Criticism; Compromise

" The Canterville Ghost" came at the apogee of the conflict in the Anglo-American relations. During that time, America and Britain were resisting reciprocal positive influence. America, with its modern spirit, was at odds with the British values which it regarded as mere symptoms of backwardness. The British, on the other hand, highly esteemed their values and regarded the heresies of the New World as threats to the tradition that constituted their cultural identity. Hence, many British accounts, travelogues and other literary genres were composed with view at exposing all aspects of the modernized America as it appears in the story.

Wilde's story stands as an antithesis to these subversive texts. As opposed to other writers developing accounts of the American life, Wilde does not ridicule the manners of the Americans for the mere purpose of exposing them. Rather, with his acumen of humor, Wilde employs his Ghost to comment on some characteristics of the American society with view at promulgating a wholesale rejection of the crippling cultural struggle between the Americans and the British. In the story, Wilde expresses a heart-felt desire for obliterating the clash and finding a middle ground that would combine the aesthetics of the Old World and the developments of the New one.

Written after his tour in America, "The Canterville Ghost" reflects Wild's negative impression of some aspects of the American life. As Richard Elmann observes, Wilde was aware of the malevolence directed against him by the Americans during his tour. His attitude towards this negative reception appears as he declares: "I am not the one who is injured, it is the public" (p. 184). This shows that, in the story, Wilde's concern goes far from retaliating to this acute criticism directed against him. Rather, he is overwhelmed by the broader issue of the clash between American and British nations. Thus it might well be argued that the story accentuates Wilde's hope for eliminating this conflict between the two sides.

Wilde's concern in the story is twofold. First, by juxtaposing the modern American spirit with the traditional British history in one setting, he intends to expose the shortcomings of the American temperament in terms of its pragmatism, materialistic orientations and sense of superiority in addition to many other American idiosyncrasies. Second, in portraying the confrontation between the two cultures, Wilde aims at achieving reconciliation between the American new spirit and the British tradition. In other words, Wilde's critique of the American family and his elaboration on the clash are essentially presented for the sake of establishing cordial relations between the American and British cultures and ending the culture war between the two sides.

Wilde's condemnation of the Americans principles and values as well as his hope for a compromise between the Americans and the British is both projected through the Ghost. Sir Simon is the prominent figure in the story functioning as Wilde's mouthpiece for criticism of the Americans as well as a mediator for compromise between the Americans and the British. Through his encounters with the American family, Sir Simon conveys to the reader a gloomy picture of the American mentality and values. At the same time, in the final experience of Sir Simon with Virginia, Wilde insinuates the idea that there is a hope of establishing harmony between the two Worlds.

As a symbol of the English classical spirit, Sir Simon is portrayed in a way that makes him gain the favor of the reader. …

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