How does the story "Princess September" show that the secret of happiness is freedom?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

M. Somerset Maugham's story "Princess September" demonstrates that those who are free and independent are secure in themselves as individuals. They will, then, become content with their lives and can blossom into delightful people.

It is in such a state of peaceful happiness that Princess September and her little songbird exist. However, the princess's sisters are not content. Because they have had their names changed so frequently, they are insecure in their identities. In this state of insecurity and frustration, the sisters become petty and resentful of their little sister. When all the princesses receive parrots from their father, they keep their birds that can only say a few words in golden cages. But one day, Princess September's parrot dies. She is inconsolable for some time until a little songbird flies in her window. His beautiful singing delights all that hear it, and Princess September comes out of her depression. 

Each day the little bird soars all around the palace, much to the enjoyment of everyone there. However, when the older sisters notice how much attention September's sweet-sounding bird receives, they become envious of this delightful bird that is so unlike their annoying parrots. They are also jealous of the princess herself because she feels such joy in owning this bird. So, when the little bird is missing one day, the eight sisters are secretly jubilant. However, the bird returns, much to the chagrin of the sisters. Privately, the little bird tells his owner that he has been at his father-in-law's party and had to plead with him to return to the princess. When the sisters are told by Princess September that the bird was at a party, the duplicitous sisters feign concern that he may again fly off or even be eaten by the palace cats. Deviously, they suggest that Princess September secure the bird in the golden cage that formerly belonged to her parrot. Princess September naively trusts the sisters' judgment and cages the little bird.

Once he is caged, the little singing bird becomes despondent, for he cannot bear to be confined in such a way, and he becomes so crestfallen that he stops singing. No matter how much the princess pleads with the bird that she is only acting for his safety, he will not cheer up. Finally, Princess September becomes worried that he will die, so she sets him free.

The parting was heart-rending for September, but she bore it with grace and fortitude. After all, her dear little one had got his deliverance from the cage where he was slowing rotting to death. In the bird’s happiness lay her happiness, she reasoned.

When they learn of the bird's departure, the envious sisters taunt Princess September. But the loyal little bird returns and again brings joy to his owner. In the following years, the disgruntled sisters become uglier as they grow up. As women, they "were driven to disgrace," but the contented Princess September marries a prince and lives happily.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Princess September's pet parrot dies, she is greatly saddened. However, she cheers up when a little bird flies into her room and sings to her. The little bird's singing is so beautiful that it gladdens Princess September's heart immensely. The bird offers to be her pet in place of her dead parrot; after all, he reasons that he is a much better singer, despite not being much to look at.

Princess September lets her pet bird come and go as he pleases. When the bird is late coming back from his father-in-law's party, she is wracked with anxiety and worry. She wonders if perhaps her sisters are not right in suggesting that she gives her pet too much freedom. Princess September proceeds to put the little bird in a cage. However, he soon suffers such great unhappiness that he is unable to sing. Her sisters insist that the Princess should be firm in her resolve and not give in to the bird's pleas to be let out. In the end, upon finding her pet bird almost dead from misery, she releases him.

His words are telling: "I will come because I love you, little Princess."

These words show that the secret to happiness for ourselves and for those we love is the freedom to choose. This freedom is essential to trust within any relationship. When the bird felt that he was trusted, his desire to return was strengthened. This freedom to choose gave Princess September and the bird much happiness. The Princess grew in beauty, and the bird continued to rejoice in the Princess's trust in him.

Hope this helps!