Social Picture in The Canterville Ghost

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      The Canterville Ghost is a study in societal contrasts. Wilde chooses an American family, sets it up in a British setting, and then, through a series of accidents and mishaps, deliberately contrived by the Otis family members, sets one culture in opposition to the other. He creates conventional characters that stand for both England and the United States, and he presents each of these characters as comical figures. He satirizes the crude and rough tastes of Americans, as well as the doggedness of Englishmen to guard their venerable, hoary traditions. Sir Simon Canterville is not a symbol of England (rather Mrs. Umney is), but a prime example of true British culture, which upholds personal bravery and a sense of ethics as major characteristics that make a man. In this sense, he stands in perfect contrast to the Otises. Sir Simon misunderstands the Otises just as they misunderstand him. By setting them up against each other, Wilde clearly appears to call attention to the cultural clash between England and the United States. Though the 'pioneering fathers’ of America were English migrants who landed on the east coast, named their state Virginia’ after their Virgin Queen Elizabeth the First and implanted British place names like New York, New Hampshire and even New England, the culture that emerged in the New World was totally alien, with very little traces of Anglicanism. Even the English language, in the glory of which every Englishman took pride, changed unalterably, its pronunciations and spellings of words transformed beyond recognition in most cases. The earthy practicality of the Americans is sneered at by most of the children of Brittania for whom style and fine taste combined with a romantic approach to life constitutes the essence of British culture. Wilde, the Irishman, does not spare the self-styled superior beings who consider themselves a cut above the other races of the world. The clash starts from the very first chapter where Hiram Otis declares proudly, “I have come from a modern country where we have everything that money can buy.” Wilde upholds this thoroughly materialistic image of the American and pits it against the stiff-upper-lipped island imperialists who mock Americans as being very natural, the last word standing for unrefined and coarse.

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