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English coursework (Oscar Wilde) Essay

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In an essay of 3-4 pages discuss how Oscar Wilde uses stereotypes and concepts from traditional fairy-tales and in invert them in his short stories.

In the majority of Oscar Wilde’s fairytales there are numerous stereotypical characters and concepts. In an exemplary fairytale there is the philanthropic character, who is very important to the format of fairytale, for instance a Prince or King, This individual usually, forms an advantageous partnership with a bi-character such as Princess, Queen, Frog, or a Wizard, this may work in reverse in some fairy tales where e.g. the Princess is the leading character and the King is the sub-role. The enemy of the protagonist is called as a villain whose only existence in a fairytale is to try and prevent the leading character and his/hers acquaintances from saving the day or more importantly the world.

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The evil being is primarily associated with negative images for example bad manners, ruthless personality, or the trademark evil express of amusement. In contrast the valiant hero/heroine is linked with a clean depiction. Witches, Dragons, and Wolves are more often than not portrayed as Villains. Fairy-tale writers use techniques in which they lead the reader to believe that the hero/heroine will prevail in the battle against evil, because the story gives the impression that the villain is superior to the central character.

Almost ever fairy-tale begins with the opening phrase ‘Once Upon a Time’ and end with ‘…and they live happily ever after.’ Use of these phrases result in the reader instantaneously recognises that it is a fairy-tale. Castles are prominent buildings in fairytales because most of fairy-tales were written in medieval-times where castles were the biggest buildings you would see, and they are also related to Kings and Queens.

Wilde makes extensive use of traditional fairy-tale characters, which do not exist in real life, in his stories such as ogres, giants and talking birds. I think Wilde choose to do this because he knew bizarre creatures put the message of his choice across much easier to the readers, children in particular.

I know this from ‘The Happy Prince’ and ‘The Selfish Giant’ where the winter season is given human characteristics and actually given a voice to speak: “He is too selfish”.

What separates Oscar Wilde from other writers in Victorian times is that he uses traditional fairy-tale characters to address contemporary issues to express his opinion.

In ‘The Happy Prince’ Wilde embarks upon the difficulty of poverty and privilege, which were disregarded subjects in that era.

When the Prince was alive he lived in the palace of San-Souci, here he wasn’t allowed to see the outside world, that didn’t bother the Prince because there he had everything he wanted and needed. He was very happy this led to people naming him the Happy Prince: “My courtiers called me The Happy Prince, and happy I was indeed, if pleasure be happiness. In the Palace no grief would enter, his courtiers fearing the happy prince would see true misery and sadness. The Prince lived a very luxurious and rich life and was easily pleased with his wealth. When he died they made a statue of him and placed high above the city. From this position he had a respectable view of everything.

This meant that he was able to life outside the Palace: Beggars starving, children being abused, poverty all this made the Happy Prince grieve because he was powerless to stop any of this as he was a statue. Here Wilde makes a direct comparison between the rich and the poor. Wilde does this to make the reader sympathise with the poor people: When the Swallow flies over the city he sees rich people sitting in the warmth of their expensive residences and beggars sitting outside of their gates. The Swallow also spots to children hungry and cold lying in each others arms for warmth under a bridge to seek shelter from the heavy rain, but they are told to leave by the watchman, and they walk back out into the rain. Incidents like this make the Happy Prince cry every single day as he sits and watches the wretchedness of the city.

Wilde sends the message that human fickleness is a weakness in ‘The Happy Prince’. As a statue the Happy Prince was very beautiful and expensive. His body was covered in leaves of fine gold, he has two bright sapphires as eyes and a large red ruby encrusted in his sword-hilt. The Happy Prince was admired by many people in the city as a consequence of this awe-inspiring appearance. A mother says to her child: “Why can’t you be like the Happy Prince” She uses the Happy Prince as a role model for her son, little does know of the Happy Prince but him being a very expensive statue. This show how people judge based on small assumptions of physical appearance only.

Eventually the Happy Prince loses all his fine possessions, as he has given them away to those whose needs are greater, and two townsfolk spot the statue. They decide to take it down; they compare its value to that of beggars:

“As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful”. The Arts Professor believes that without beauty the statue is useless. This indicates that they didn’t place the statue above the city as a symbol representing something with a deep philosophical intent, but merely as an appealing decoration for the city.

Wilde also shows some fickleness and its consequences in ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ where the nightingale observes a young student who is in love with his teacher’s daughter. He wants to give her a rose which symbolises his love for her, but cannot afford one. The nightingale sympathises for the young student, he decides to go through agony and in the end sacrifice his life to get that rose for him. The student receives the rose, and goes to the professor’s daughter to ask her if she will accept his rose, but she frowns and says that she has been given far better gifts from another man. The student walks away in disgust and throws the rose into the gutter where gets flattened by a cart-wheel. The nightingales sacrifice was in vein. The student decides to exclude himself from ever loving again and he dedicates the rest of his life to studying philosophy. This tale has had an important morale stressed by Oscar Wilde. He uses a dramatic ending to emphasise his point. He undoubtedly shows the destructiveness of a fickle nature.

The fairytale ‘The Selfish Giant’ explores selfishness and ignorance by portraying the stereotypical character of a giant as a ruthless monster in some part of the story. Wilde uses little children to contrast the enormous giant’s dominance. When the giant arrives at his castle he finds children playing innocent games in his garden. The giant furiously chases them away and builds a high wall around his garden. As a result of this no seasons but winter enters his doomed garden. As summer, autumn and spring comes and goes one constant climate remains in the giant’s garden and his only. Wilde uses the endless winter a metaphor for the ongoing sentence of the giant’s misery, that winter has sentenced him for being selfish and cruel to the children.

The giant soon realises his that all that time he was away, the little children had been preserving his garden and now that they were away it was winter forever. He figures this out when he sees one of his trees blossoming because a group of children climbed upon it. The giant apologises to the children and breaks down the stone fence: “…and my garden shall be the children’s playground for ever and ever”. The giant’s change of heart causes his garden to blossom and allow the ‘other’ seasons to enter accordingly. When the giant dies, he goes to paradise. Wilde does this to stress the story’s morale and message by showing that if you stop being selfish you will be rewarded.

Wilde does use many traditional fairytale conventions but still his stories are different from the tradition in a variety of ways. Traditionally the good triumph when they have made a noble sacrifice. Wilde doesn’t necessarily do this. In fact he tends to not do it at all. This is evident in ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ where a nightingale unselfishly sacrifices his life for something as minor as getting a red rose to a student who is in love. In the end the student is rejected by the girls he loves, and the nightingales sacrifice was in vein. This story shows that Oscar Wilde will write sorrowful endings if he has to emphasise his point.

A reasonable amount of Wilde’s tales do not introduce the story with the phrase ‘Once upon a time…’ and conclude it with ‘And they all lived happily ever after.’ Wilde is very attentive in the ways in which he opens a fairy tale, but when it comes to ending one he usually goes with a harsh approach, and does not include psychological twists. In a world of magic and wonder Wilde does not exclude the use of religious imagery, this is hardly ever done in fairy tale. For example; when the Happy Prince and his little assistant the swallow both die doing their heroic deeds. God orders an angel to bring Him the two best things in the city the angel chooses the Happy Prince and the Swallow, because they were recognised for doing good deeds and therefore rewarded with an entry to God’s paradise.

In the ‘Selfish Giant’ we also see Wilde’s strong belief in God, when the giant dies and allowed entry in Paradise by God, because the giant has become a better individual. I think Wilde does this because he himself believes that good things come to those who deserve it, and he wants to encourage the readers to believe in that too. This is especially aimed at younger readers.

Though Wilde’s stories are fairy tales they bare a resemblance to modern day life. In the beginning of storytelling fairy tales were used as a form of entertainment and written for that purpose as well. Where Wilde’s tales differ is when the tales carry a message hidden behind a great storyline, this not only done to give the reader a good read but also to teach and educate things that they perhaps didn’t know or had a different perspective of. Nowadays stories always have these messages in them, but Oscar Wilde was one of the first to introduce this style of story-formatting, as readers crave for more than just a good story. The drama and intensity was also quite unusual elements Wilde added in his tales. These days drama is an essential ingredient to almost every genre of literature, Wilde was one of the first to discover this, which is one of many reasons why his tales are still loved and admired across the world to this day.

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