Choose one most important literary term that is most significant in shaping the story "The Young King" by Oscar Wilde. For example, is it irony, point of view, theme, seting, symbols, conflict,...

Choose one most important literary term that is most significant in shaping the story "The Young King" by Oscar Wilde. For example, is it irony, point of view, theme, seting, symbols, conflict, imagery, tone, foreshaddowing, characterization? Use evidence from the story to support your answer.

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caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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It is challenging to make a case for only one literary element being the most important in this story, but I will make an argument for symbolism being the answer.

Symbols abound in this story, ranging from blatant to subtle or historical, and include;

  • the forest: freedom
  • Porphyry, Lions, the robe, crown and scepter: Traditional symbols of royalty.
  • Adonis/Hadrian's slave/Endymion: possibly symbols of antiquity, i.e. outdatedness, the past, implying the King is becoming enraptured by dead men and myths rather than paying attention to his own people and time

I think the most important symbols are not the contents of the king's dreams, bu the dreams themselves. Dreams are commonly used as semi-ambiguous prophetic plot devices, speaking on behalf of a character's subconscious mind. If we choose to interpret that the dreams are in fact just dreams, and not some sort of divine revelation, then it may be concluded that the dreaming is symbolic of the king's inner nature, i.e. his subconscious mind chastising and correcting him.

There is also abundant Christian symbolism toward the end of the story, most particularly the briar crown and its close appearance to Christ's crown of thorns.

Taken as a whole, I believe the story is a message in symbols. The boy-king represents mankind, a child of high but corrupted parentage (his parents were Adam and Eve). He is raised in poverty, which inadvertently guards him against sin; he is then seduced by worldly pleasures, not realizing the suffering that he brings to others until his innate human empathy begins to curdle his joy. Neither do many of his subjects realize the blasphemous idol-worship they are engaging in. The king realizes the wisdom in his heritage, and eschews the gaudy trappings of man, favoring the humble trappings of Christ, becoming like Christ in the end.

I think you could also make a very strong case for imagery, characterization, and point of view. Imagery is important because of the abundant details, helping us to connect with the king and the visceral experience of the dreams. Characterization is significant because of the way the dreams express themselves, particularly in personifying abstract concepts like Avarice. Point of view is important because it is different points of view, via his dreams, that reveal the king's repulsive ways (although, again, since they are his own dreams it may simply be his own, yet subconscious, point of view).

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