The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde

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What is the exposition in "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde?

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Exposition is a term for the background information a story provides.

Wilde gives us the background of both the Happy Prince and the swallow. The Happy Prince is dead when the story opens and has become a grand statue in the town square. We learn that he lived a life of ease and comfort behind the walls of a palace. He thought only of himself and his own pleasure.

Now that he is a statue in the city, however, he sees all the misery and want he was shielded from in his palace. His heart cries out to help people, but he is immobilized because he is a statue. He may look happy, but inside he is sad.

The swallow stayed in the city after his fellow swallows left because he was in love with a reed, but she wasn't true to him. He decides to spend the night sleeping on the statue and then join the other swallows.

This explains how the statue and the swallow meet, and why the Happy Prince wants the swallow to help him care for the poor people of the city.

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There are several references that pinpoint the place, but there is no specific reference to time period.  The two leading characters are the Happy Prince (a beautiful statue that was once a real human prince) and a Swallow (a small bird traveling towards Egypt to meet up with his friends).  In the very beginning we are told the story takes place in a city, and a little later on, through the conversation between the statue and the swallow, we learn that they are in Northern Europe, near the Sans-Souci Palace, which is near Berlin.

Time period is much more difficult to determine.  Since Wilde references poorhouses, a ghetto, titles such as "Mathematical Master" and "Town Councilor", and recovering jewels from India a thousand years before, it is safe to assume that this story takes place some time after the 16th century but most likely no later than the 18th.  Generally, when specific time periods are not referenced in fictional works, it allows the author more freedom of expression in his or her writing and therefore it is not necessary to the story.

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