The Happy Prince Summary

Discuss the short story "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde as an moral and a social allegory?

"The Happy Prince" is an allegory for the superficiality of of Victorian England. The bejeweled statue of the prince sits atop a hill, allowing the once wealthy and carefree prince to see poverty and inequality for the first time. Disturbed, he has a swallow deliver all the jewels from his opulent statue to the poor. Though he eventually loses all his jewels, the statue is richer inside for helping the needy. This inner beauty is not appreciated by the people, who tear down the now plain statue, demonstrating society's preoccupation with superficial traits like one's outward appearance and material wealth.

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The story "The Happy Prince" is a moral and social allegory in that it places shallowness vs. altruism; idleness vs. sacrifice; and contempt vs. compassion under the perspective of the one person who once was adored by all and now has a statue made after him: The so-called Happy Prince.

Once, when the Prince was alive, he was filled with richness and opulence to the point that, after his death, he was made into a statue of gold leaf and jewels.  After the shallow swallow visits him and does the favor of giving one of the statue's rubies to a poor person, the Prince demonstrates that, as he gives more and more of his jewels and disrobes himself from the gold, he gains more for feeding the poor and clothing the needy thanks to the riches in his statue.

Slowly, as the swallow continues to deliver the goods of the statue to the poor of the city, he learns the social imbalance that exists in society, where some have too much and others too little.  In the case of Wilde's time, Victorian England was experiencing the same inequity in the slum districts and Oscar's story is a clear allegory and metaphor of the British Social System at the time: Where the rich were filthy rich and the poor starved to death.

In the end, the swallow learns the lesson, the prince is completely run down from the jewels and gold that decorated him and, in accordance to the typical Victorian mentality, he was not worth attention anymore because, as the story says:

"As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,’

Hence, the shallowness of the people ended up with them trying to destroy the statue, the swallow dies next to it, and both go to Heaven where God deems them two beautiful creations just because of being who they are.

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The Happy Prince, by Oscar Wilde, is a wonderful allegory, typical of 19th century English fiction.  Social injustice, the redemptive power of love, and the loss of innocence are themes addressed by both Dickens and Wilde.

Here we have a statue who, at one time, was a real prince.  He was happy when alive, because he was kept ignorant of any sadness or suffering outside his palace walls.  His life was one of joy and fulfilled desires.  And then he died.  Upon his death, a statue was made depicting him which was covered in gold, had beautiful sapphires for eyes, and a ruby attached to his sword-gilt.  Because of the value society places on gold and jewels, he was thought to be quite beautiful.  "Useless," remarks a Town Councilman, "but beautiful."  He is adored by all who see him.  Unfortunately for the statue, his placement atop a high hill allows him to witness, for the first time, the pain and misery experienced by the poor of the city, of whom he had remained ignorant.

The statue, once happy, now weeps with sadness to learn the  plight of so many who have so little.  A self-serving swallow arrives to take shelter beneath this statue and eventually becomes touched by the statue's kindness and desire to help others.  He becomes the statue's messenger and agrees to remove the jewels and the gold from the Happy Prince in order to bring contentment, badly needed financial security, and compassion to the masses.  In an allegory, the characters stand for ideas or for people in history.  In this story, the swallow can be seen as Socialism -delivering necessities to all so that all are on equal footing.

As the statue's gold and jewels are taken and redistributed among the poor, he is no longer able to see the impoverished around him.  He knows it is there, and he is not blind to the sufferings of others as he once was.  Even without eyes to see, he knows that it exists.

Eventually, the little swallow lies at the feet of the statue and dies from exposure and exhaustion.  He never made it to Egypt because he exchanged his dream of warm climates and comfort with a bigger dream -to bring help to those who are in need.  The sculpture cracks with sadness at the loss of his friend, and his heart is exposed.  The most beautiful part of the statue -the kind and giving heart- could not be seen on the outside.

Upon seeing the statue in such disrepair, the powerful people of the city -the Town Councilors and Mayor -decide that he is no longer useful, because he is no longer beautiful.  Much like the poor, who were exploited and tossed away by the rich,  the statue is taken down. Arguments are begun to determine whose likeness will replace the superficial shell that they called The Happy Prince.

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