The Happy Prince Questions and Answers

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Why does the swallow think that the statue of the Happy Prince has a golden heart?

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The statue of the Happy Prince is covered in gold leaf, so the swallow believes the statue must be gold through and through. The Happy Prince's heart is made of lead, but the Prince is so generous to the poor in the city that he might as well have the proverbial heart of gold, a term which describes the character of a kind, compassionate, and giving person. He and the swallow work to together to alleviate suffering in the Prince's city.

After the swallow dies, the city's leaders decide that the statue, which has given away all its gold leaf and rubies to help the poor, looks shabby and should be melted down. It is then that they discover the statue has a heart of lead that won't melt. They throw it on a trash heap, but an angel of God takes it to heaven along with the dead swallow, considering these the two most precious items in the city.

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At first, the swallow assumes that the Happy Prince's heart is made of gold because he expects that he is "solid gold" in his entirety. The statue is extremely decorative, covered in gold leaf and bedecked with precious stones, so the swallow's assumption is simply that such an elegant and ostentatious creation would have a gold heart, too—the statue is defined by its golden exterior. He is therefore surprised when the prince explains to him that his heart is now made of lead, although once he had a human heart.

At the end of the story, however, although the people in the town believe that the statue should be torn down when his gold leaf falls off and he is no longer either beautiful or useful, it is revealed that the statue's leaden heart is in fact worthier than if it had been gold.

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