What are the similarities between Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince" and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby?

Expert Answers
Jessica Akcinar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both the story "The Happy Prince" and the novella The Great Gatsby share a similar superficially appealing, yet selfless protagonist and comment on the shallowness of upper class society.

In Wilde's story, the prince, a statue "gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt" is admired by all for his wealth and beauty. He is the epitome of happiness to the townspeople. After all, what could a prince ever want for? Mothers often asked their unhappy children, "Why can’t you be like the Happy Prince?" In all actuality, in life the prince was happy, but after being memorialized as a statue, he now has a vantage point over the town and sees his people suffering due to poverty. He recognizes that the upper class, which he was once a part of, is superficial and cares not of the plight of others but instead focuses on dancing and "pleasure" seeking. He decides to use his wealth to help the poor and asks a swallow to take his jewels to those in need. This continues over a length of time during which he and the swallow, equally as selfless since he decides to stay behind to help the prince instead of flying to warmer climate in Egypt, both suffer great physical loss to their health. Due to the bitter cold, the swallow dies at the prince's feet, and the prince's "heart had snapped right in two." Members of the upper class find the dead swallow and dilapidated prince, and since they now see him as "no longer beautiful and no longer useful," he is demolished and melted in a furnace with no recognition of his selflessness and sacrifice.

Similarly, Jay Gatsby is viewed by all as wealthy and handsome. Like the prince, he is the epitome of elegance and wealth and throws extravagant, frivolous parties, similar to those the prince would have experienced. Like the upper class in Wilde's story, the East and West Egg upper class attend the lavish balls, taking advantage of their host's hospitality without ever actually knowing or caring about him. Even those close to Gatsby, with the exception of his friend Nick Calloway, seem to use him and his money with no concern. For example, Gatsby uses his wealth to obtain the love of Daisy, a socialite who is married the rich Buchannan, equally as superficial as she is. Not only does he shower her in luxury and love, but he also sacrifices himself when he takes the blame for a hit and run she commits, which leads to his murder. After his death, Nick sees that Daisy, along with all those who benefitted from Gatsby's generosity, not only forsake the millionaire, but go as far as to gossip about his death. No one attends his funeral. Nick realizes that he does not want  to be part of this upper class society because all they do is "(smash) up things and creatures and then (retreat) back into their money or their vast carelessness..."

Both the prince and Gatsby are used up and discarded by the very people who profited from them. Just like the prince, Gatsby shares his wealth with others and pays the ultimate price for his generosity. Like the swallow, Nick Calloway is the only soul who appreciates the true nature of his selfless friend.