American Stereotypes

What struck me the most about Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost” was how aggressively American the United States Minister’s family was. One of the funniest bits in the story in my opinion was the childrens’ names, with the eldest named Washington, the daughter named Virginia, and the nameless twins called the Stars and Stripes. Wilde brought up American stereotypes in this story that I didn’t even know existed, such as when the family discussed the importance of the city of Boston and how they thought that the New York accent was much more pleasant than the London drawl.

When I first read the story, I thought the family being American was just a way for Wilde to make some jabs at Americans and comment on how their disposition is so different from British people’s. However, after reading “The Decay of Lying,” I think there are more layers to Wilde deciding to make this family American.

In “The Decay of Lying,” Wilde comments on, “The crude commercialism of America, its materialising spirit, its indifference to the poetical side of things, and its lack of imagination and of high unattainable ideals” (1081).

All these traits that Wilde mentions in “The Decay of Lying” are present in the Otis family, including the “crude commercialism,” which comes up when the minister name drops name-brand stain remover and lubricant. This leads me to believe that instead of being a family that exhibits some American stereotypes, the Otis family is a stand-in for all of America.

Believing in ghosts and hauntings requires a bit of imagination and fancy, but since the Otis family is American and is indifferent to poetics and has no imagination, they initially don’t believe a ghost is haunting Canterville. Even when the ghost is proven to be real, they are almost indifferent to the ghost’s attempts to scare them, except for when Washington and the twins torment the ghosts. The ghost and the family are in an odd sort of limbo with the ghost unable to leave and the family not being affected by the ghost. It is only when Virginia listens to the ghost that the situation is resolved. She is able to sympathize with him, listen to the prophecy, and walk with him to the Garden of Death. She isn’t indifferent to poetics and imagination which is why she is able to lead him out.

The Ameican family is able to survive because of their Americanness, unlike the British inhabitants before them. However, it’s Virginia’s combination of American ideals and being open to imagination that fixes things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *