Supernatural Elements in The Canterville Ghost

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Show through illustrations from the story how Oscar Wilde makes use of a rare combination of humour and supernatural elements in the story.
Evaluate The Canterville Ghost as a ghost story with a difference.


      A ghost story is supposed to be sinister and spine-chilling, full of weird, supernatural incidents, making its readers feel an unknown dread and horror enveloping them gradually, as the tale progresses. But Oscar Wilde’s approach to the ghostly theme is totally different. He blends natural and supernatural elements in the Ghost’s character and thus creates a situation that is utterly different from those found in typical tales of horror. He turns the feared Ghost into a comical character who not only fails abjectly to frighten a family of Americans, but is humiliated, ignored, snubbed, rebuked and himself terrorized. The Ghost is sufficiently uncanny and sinister, possessing the proper ghostly traits - but frustratingly for him, the Americans refuse to be frightened by even his most horrifying guises and acts.

      Possibly the funniest incident in the story occurs when the Ghost himself gets a fright at seeing the ghoulish-looking contraption (the Otis ghoste) put up by the mischievous twins. The author’s statement -“Never having seen a ghost before, he naturally was terribly frightened” - is an unforgettable example of intelligent humour. The twins turn the tables on the Ghost - the hunter becomes the victim!

      A ghost is not supposed to possess a touchable corporeal body. The Canterville Ghost is ghostly enough - he can pass through the paneling on the walls, change shape at will, vanish into thin air and so on. At the same time, he also acts just like a human being of flesh and blood!

      He falls down under the weight of the heavy armor, grazes his knee badly, feels pain and falls sick enough t:o be confined in his room! Wilde blends the natural and the supernatural and creates humour by making use of the classic technique of putting forward before the reader the improbable and the unexpected in order to elicit spontaneous laughter.

      The Canterville Ghost is thus a different kind of fantasy, the forerunner of the wonderful magical tales written by Oscar Wilde a few years later, viz. The Happy Prince, The Selfish Giant, The Nightingale and the Rose and several others. In each of these marvelous stories, human and non-human creatures co-exist and interact with each other effortlessly in a normal fashion.

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