The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde

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How does "The Happy Prince" illustrate or symbolize the wealth of the upper class?

"The Happy Prince" illustrates and symbolizes through the Happy Prince himself the way the upper class misuses its wealth, first by spending it on its own pleasure and, second, by spending it on useless objects like the costly statue of the prince.

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In "The Happy Prince," Wilde illustrates two ideas about upper-class wealth. First, the wealthy are out of touch with the reality of the lives of the poor, and second, the wealthy waste their money on pointless objects. Both of these ideas are symbolized by the Happy Prince.

In the first case, we learn from the Happy Prince himself that he lived his life in a state of pleasure behind the walls of his palace. He never bothered to look outside his walls to see the suffering of the people of his city but simply spent his time enjoying himself. Therefore, like the wealthy classes as a whole, he was unaware of the extent of suffering in the kingdom and did nothing about it.

Second, after the prince's death, the city elders built a great gold statue to commemorate the prince's life. It had sapphires for eyes and a ruby in the sword hilt. This represents how the rich waste their resources on silly displays of grandeur. As the Happy Prince finds out to his horror after his death, the vast amount of money spent on his statue would much better have been spent on helping the poor. In fact, he recruits the Swallow to gradually strip his statue of all its gold and precious gems in order to provide real aid to people who are sick and hungry. In the end, the statue is "little better than a beggar!" in the words of the mayor. However, the Swallow's and the prince's way of spending the prince's wealth is approved by God:

"Bring me the two most precious things in the city," said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.

"You have rightly chosen," said God, "for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me."

In other words, the wealthy should spend their resources on helping those who have nothing, not simply on their own pleasure and splendid monuments to themselves.

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