Witty Dialogue & Topsy-Turvy Situation in The Canterville Ghost

Also Read

Show by analyzing examples from the text how Oscar Wilde makes use of topsy-turvy situations and witty dialogues to create humour out of a macabre setting.


      Oscar Wilde uses humour and topsy-turvy to counterbalance the tension and scary atmosphere that usually permeates such a ghost story. He treats phantoms, apparitions, blood stains, the fearful haunting of the ghost in the corridors - in short, all the scary components of a typical supernatural theme that are present in this story — comically and farcically. He instills the funny elements by turning matters on their heads. The Otises, with the exception of Virginia, are all utterly down-to-earth individuals who appear to lack the imagination necessary to grasp the idea of something beyond the totally normal or usual. They are denizens of the terrestrial world which they can experience with their five senses only. In short, they are not Romantics even in the basic sense of the term.

      That is why the persistent blood stain is wiped with Pinkerton’s Stain Remover, Mr. Otis scolds the ghost and offers him Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator to oil his rusty chains, and when the Ghost laughs his demonic laughter, Mrs. Otis accuses him of suffering from indigestion and offers him Dr. Dobell’s Tincture. The frustrated Ghost appears in a miserable state that shocks no one. He is duty bound and says later, “I must rattle my chains, groan through keyholes, walk about at night.” He means to say that being a phantom, he must play the role of a phantom and do the things expected of a phantom!

      Oscar Wilde refuses to ascribe any seriousness even to a gruesome murder. Sir Simon murdered his wife because she was not a good cook and also did not know anything about repairing things! Mrs. Otis does not pretend to be sick as part of European Refinement, she is handsome. The ghost becomes frustrated because the Otises are incapable of appreciating the symbolic value of apparitions, blood stains, development of astral bodies and do not attach any importance to his ghostly job of haunting the castle. All the tricks played on the ghost are funny, the best being his encounter with another so-called ghost - actually a contraption made from household objects by the naughty twins - which scares the hell out of the Canterville Ghost because, though a ghost himself, he has never before seen another ghost!

      Wilde thus adopts the classic approach in the creation of humour and comical fun — he brings in the unanticipated and the unexpected in place of the normal and the usual. When a baby slips on a banana skin and falls, nobody laughs; but when the same happens to a grown man, our first instinctive reaction is to laugh out loud at the sight. Instead of being scared, the Otises treat the Ghost as if he is merely a freak of Nature and is to be treated with disdain! They do not give him the special importance that he demands. Hence the Ghost is also bewildered, frustrated and ultimately admits unconditional and outright defeat. The whole scenario evokes laughter because the reader enjoys a situation in which a ghost is pinned down and forced back into a comer by a family of earthy individuals. Instead of shivering in fear at the horrible guises of the Ghost, they find those comical and ludicrous!

Previous Post Next Post