What is the ending of “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Oscar Wilde's short story "The Happy Prince" is a satire commenting on social class distinctions and the wastefulness and selfishness of the upper class, particularly the nobility. The story features a statue of a deceased prince made of gold leafing and decorated in gem stones. When the prince was alive, he was called the Happy Prince, so the statue is also called the Happy Prince in his death. However, as the statue explains to the nesting swallow, the Happy Prince was not truly happy in life and is absolutely miserable now that he has been able to observe life.

As the statue explains to the swallow while weeping, when he was alive he was kept confined to the palace and the garden. He was surrounded by beauty and spent his days playing and dancing. His courtiers called him the Happy Prince, and at the time he believed he was happy because he thought that happiness was nothing more than feeling "pleasure." However, now that he is a statue perched high above the city, he "can see all of the ugliness and all of the misery of [his] city" and cannot keep from weeping. Seeing all of the misery makes him realize that true happiness is not just a feeling of pleasure, it's the ability to overcome misery.

He then sets out to overcome all of the misery and poverty found in his city by having the swallow bring bits of the statue to the people. He asks the sparrow to bring his ruby to the queen's warn seamstress who has an ill son, one of his sapphires to the poor playwright starving in his garret, his other sapphire to the poor match-girl, and all of his leaves of gold to the rest of the poor in the city.

Yet, sadly all of the statue's sacrifices have no permanent effect since the upper class continue to act in their selfishness and the sparrow who helped the statue dies. We see evidence of the upper class continuing in their blind, selfish ways when the art professor at the University declares the statue must be taken down because if "he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful." Further evidence of the continuation of selfishness is seen when all of the Town Councillors declare that statues of all of them should be made instead, which would be a waste of money.

The short story ends with angels of God bringing to God the two most precious things in the city, the swallow and the leaden heart of the prince's statue. God declares that both the bird and the prince shall live forever in God's "city of gold," praising God. Yet since the story ends with the swallow and the prince being in subordination to God and praising God for his beauty, just as the townspeople praised the statue of the wealthy prince, we see that Wilde is showing us that the cycle of class distinction and subordination has not ended and will not end because it is far too deeply ingrained in society.

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