The Self and the Other in the Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was one of the most effective authors of the late Victorian Age. Wilde was associated with the aestheticism movement, which tried to establish art as simply pieces of appeal. Many individuals of the Victorian Period thought all works of art had a deeper significance and function aside from for enjoyment, but Wilde worked to disprove this concept. He thought that art is self sufficient and it does not have to teach morals or to show political commitment to society, and that the artist is not required to discuss what he or she suggests and can still be a great artist.

Wilde, as an university student, was deeply impressed by the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater, who argued for the main value of art in life. Wilde later on commented ironically when he composed in The Photo of Dorian Gray that "All art is rather ineffective". In 1879 Wilde started to teach aesthetic worths in London. As a playwright, brief story author, poet and journalist, Wilde is one of the most well-known and fascinating authors nowadays.

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Famous not just for his only unique The Photo of Dorian Gray, but also for his distinct fairy tales, Wilde became favorite of lots of people during decades.

The concept of writing fairy tales came truly unintentionally to Oscar Wilde. He was in Cambridge for The Eumenides # when, to amuse his good friends, he needed to made up a story. At this time (1885 ), Oscar already had a kid, Cyril, and maybe because of him, the story he developed then had the form of a fairy tale, however the trainees liked it.

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This story was titled later on as The Pleased Prince. With The Delighted Prince and Other Tales, Wilde amazed everyone, as he was comprehended as a subversive author, an amoral individual and an enemy of the Victorian worths.

Counter to this understanding, the so called "Teacher of Visual appeals" teaches moral in his fairy tales. Oscar Wilde develops fairy tales, hidden before; fairy tales, whose target audience can not be categorically identified. His fairy tales are not the usual fairy tales, written for kids. Wilde attempts to show to the world that fairy tales could teach not only kids about moral and human values, however the adults, too. In his tales the fantastic author teaches about ethical, love, goodness, happiness, the value of the inner charm etc

He shows in his works that is not necessary for a tale to end with a happy ending, with the including of death as a cost paid for forgiveness in most of his stories. He also reveals the sad and inconvenient truth, that good does not necessarily triumph over evil, especially in a world full of vanity and soulless wealth. However, one of the main ideas, and for me the most important, is the development of the characters in the tales - their gradual understanding that the outside beauty is not the most important thing is life, their true repentance for the life they had lived and their will to improve their selves and to truly love somebody.

The difference between the self at the beginning of the story, and the self in the end, and, mainly, what is the reason for that change. Do the other or others characters of the story have intervention in it? In each fairy tale of Oscar Wilde there is such a story and moral that penetrate directly into your soul and spirit and make you think about the real and significant things in life and whether they are the same for every person. In the tale The Happy Prince the author comments of selfishness, foolishness and vanity of people in one town.

Looking from above, he shows to the reader a town and its citizens - the rich and the poor, and as if he shows two completely different towns and two completely different views of what is valuable. The story is about a prince, who had lived his life, entertaining his friends and himself, satisfying all his needs, except one - that of his soul. Oscar Wilde shows the self-development in the prince and in the swallow, too. The realization is the first step for the prince to grow up morally and ethically and stop indulging himself in pleasures and nothing else.

The development of the protagonists of the story can also be described with their self-sacrifice. First, the prince asks the swallow to pluck out his eyes without hesitate or regret that he will be blind. He is ready to sacrifice himself, but to help the ones who need help. He does this with good feelings, without wanting anything as a reward. Second, the swallow sacrifice himself by keep staying in the town, although is already too cold for him to survive long, being the eyes of the prince and keep helping the deserved for that and good-hearted, poor citizens of the town.

Both of them, the prince and the swallow, do this out of love. During the development of the tale, they teach themselves to love and feel empathy for the others, and not to always put themselves first. Wilde shows in great way that doing good makes you feel good with the words of the swallow, after his first going in the town to help the little boy: "It is curious," he remarked, "but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold. " Goodness is food for the soul. The happy prince finally learnt how to satisfy his soul and wants to teach the swallow, too, while is not too late for him.

Oscar Wilde didn’t miss the chance to satirize the people of the town, who care only for the outside beauty and do not know what moral is. However, having done that Wilde stands against the Aesthetical belief. At one point, one of the Town Councilors remarks of the statue, "He is as beautiful as a weathercock,“ but quickly adds, "only not quite so useful, fearing lest people should think him unpractical? Likewise, the "Art Professor from the University” later says, "As he is no longer beautiful, he is not longer useful.

Sadly, the true beauty of the Happy Prince, evident in his generosity, kindness, and care for the poor and suffering, goes unnoticed because the town officials, aestheticians, and the general public are too accustomed to identifying beauty with material wealth and splendor. When the prince lacks his original jewels and gold, he is no longer an object of visual appeal and lacks a "use” unlike the weathercock, and is therefore destroyed and forgotten by rule of the authority and "experts”.

Again, Wilde is not aiming to abolish a group or system of belief. He simply is attempting to point out that superficial beauty and material fixation will lead to spiritual ruin and impenetrability, leaving humanity without its much needed moral and ethical side. If art is only useful for its outward appearance, much personal expression will inevitably be ignored and rejected while lovely, but perhaps meaningless, works are celebrated. ( Dow, John 2006) Almost in the very end of the fairytale, the Happy Prince and his acquaintance die.

Although, basically the prince is already dead, and that is what is even more sad,-now is the dead of his heart, of his real heart, full of love and empathy. His heart is broken, because of the death of the Swallow, which he loved. For a moment, Wilde makes the reader think that there is no benefit in goodness, because the good characters of the tale die in the end. However, at the very end of the story, the reader is pleasantly surprised, when the author definite shows that good can beat bad, if not in the world we live in, then in Paradise, for sure.

The threw heart of the Happy Prince and the dead bird, unvalued from the Town Councillors, became valued for God and the angels. The second fairytale of The Happy Prince and Other Tales is called The Nightingale and the Rose and is a very poignant story following the theme of love and sacrifice. The theme is conveyed in this story through the actions of the Nightingale. It demonstrates how one life would sacrifice itself in order to make another happy. From the Nightingale's point of view, this is a tragically ironic story.

The little bird thinks that the student must be a 'true lover', thinks that he would give anything for one night with the Professor's daughter. However, the pure nightingale didn’t understand that the student do not deserve her sacrifice at all as he is not the person she told he is. He is just a student, devoted to his old books and denying anything which can not be explained. She told he feels “the true love” and she is sad, because he is sad and can not be with the one he “loves”. For the little nightingale “..

Love is better than Life” and without hesitate she is ready for the death. And what treatment from the student does she get? The student’s thoughts about the good bird are more than awful and painful: “She has form,' he said to himself, as he walked away through the grove - 'that cannot be denied to her; but has she got feeling? I am afraid not. In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style, without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish.

Still, it must be admitted that she has some beautiful notes in her voice. What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good. ” The irony is that, actually, the one who doesn’t have feelings is the student himself, and the saddest thing is that he is so obsessive with his books that he can not fathom it. With the student’s statement about the nightingale, Wilde stands up again against the aesthetics values, as the student accuses the bird of being superficial. The ending of this story is again an example of just how powerful Oscar Wilde`s writing is.

It gave me strong feelings of resentment towards the student and feelings of great sympathy towards the poor nightingale, who by this time was dead, and no love came of it. After the Professor's daughter had told the student that she was now going to the dance with the Chamberlain's nephew, 'he threw the rose into the street, where it fell into the gutter, and a cart-wheel went over it. ' All that work she had put into perfecting the rose was wasted! Her life had been wasted, just like the rose. The Professor's daughter was, I think, just as selfish as the student.

So, we, human beings, are not more than the birds, and this great example of how bad and selfish people can be, unfortunately, approve it. We should pay more attention to things other than ourselves. ( Dow, Jane 2008) The other fairytale of Oscar Wilde`s The Happy Prince and Other Tales that impress me is The Devoted Friend. The story shows how one can manipulate as well as how one can be manipulated. It also shows just how far some people will go for a friend. In this case, Hans gave up taking care of his garden to help a "true" friend and died doing so.

The story begins as another story about animals. The duck starts telling the water-rat a story for people and their relationships, mostly about a devoted friend. I think that Wilde didn’t start at the same beginning with the story about the miller and Hans for purpose. The water-rat is a very crucial part of the story. He frequently interrupts the narrating Linnet to wonder with whom in the innermost story he ought to be identifying. Even before the beginning of the story he asks “Is the story about me? ”. This shows how selfish the water-rat is.

He keeps interrupting the story, by asking questions, because he is not capable of understanding who of the two friend is good and who is bad. That yet suggests to the readers that the water-rat doesn’t have any moral as he couldn’t understand what the real devoted friend should be. The poor and naive Hans thinks that Hugh the Miller is his best friend, not because Hugh has done something to Hans to prove his thoughts, but because Hugh tells Hans very beautiful and impressing things about the friendship. Hans is charmed, and as he is good, sensitive and naive person does not doubt in Hugh`s words.

However, unfortunately, the miller just uses Hans. Although the miller`s family is rich and Hans is poor, Hugh continues to take anything he could from the Hans` garden with the excuse that “Real friends should have everything in common”. It is amazing how the miller misleads everybody that he is a good, devoted friend indeed. The character of Little Hans, a very kind-hearted, honest and unselfish man is playing a role to reflect the evilness of the Miller, a selfish, ambitious, inconsiderate man, who never gives his best to his friends.

The most touching part of the whole story is not the moment that Little Hans died of being drowned in the water, but when he was doing everything good to the Miller without suspecting that he was just taking him advantage and sold all the flowers Little Hans had been growing to earn for his living. What strikes me most to think about the messages conveyed in this story so deeply is that what motivates Little Hans to do everything good to the Miller? Is that really because of his receiving that wheelbarrow, and so he had to do something in return?

Little Hans, in addition, is so innocent and nice to his friends. But maybe it is his innocence and honesty that made people betray him. What is so depressing and touching is that Little Hans hadn’t won any true friendship or love from the Miller but his betrayal. (Chan 2008) Infact, there is another one pure and good person, besides Hans. That is the son of Hugh and it is not so weird, because he is still a child - pure and incorrupt. We understands child`s concernedness to the little Hans with questioning his father in the winter: 'But could we not ask little Hans up here? ' said the Miller's youngest son. 'If poor Hans is in trouble I will give him half my porridge, and show him my white rabbits. ' With these words the small boy proves he is concern about his father`s friend and does want to help him, unlike his father. The impudence and the hypocrisy are resident in Hugh. The story makes the reader think about the friendship itself and how important it is. The betrayal between friends is not something unusual but the fully devotion to one person is extremely rare, especially nowadays.

A friend like the little Hans is hard to find and whoever finds a friend like this has to do everything to keep it and to try to be at least a little bit like him. With his fairy tales, Wilde shows to the world that he is a genius and can teach moral if he wants. Starting with The Happy Prince , in which the author teaches about selfishness and vanity of people and at the same time of other people`s and animals` pureness and goodness, continuing with The Nightingale and the Rose, where the following themes are love and sacrifice, and ending with The Devoted Friend, which shows that there is bad and there is good friends.

As he examines some of the main people’s defects and sins, the main purpose, on my opinion, is to make people think about their lives and about that how they live it. In this paper I argued that there is moral behind everything, even behind fairy tales. Throughout the paper I considered things, which were interesting to me and from which I learnt a lot of things and started thinking about even more things. I regard Oscar Wilde`s fairy tales as works of genius.


Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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The Self and the Other in the Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) by Oscar Wilde. (2017, Feb 22). Retrieved from

The Self and the Other in the Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) by Oscar Wilde essay
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