The story “The Happy Prince” is a fairy tale that combines two worlds: the world of the Happy Prince above and the real world below. The story is also a contrast between the temporary happiness sought by the prince and the real happiness achieved by the prince by helping the needy and the poor. The statute of the Happy Prince set on the tall column high above the city. The prince when alive had lived a life of luxury in a large palace adjacent to a garden. The Prince remained so involved in the entertaining activities that he could not realize that there were also sorrows and sufferings besides pleasures in the world. After his death, his subjects made his statue, gilded it with the fine gold leaves, decorated his eyes with very costly sapphires and his sword hilt with a red ruby.
One evening a Swallow alighted between his feet to rest for the night. The tears from the statue’s eyes fell on him. As he looked up, he saw the Happy Prince weeping and the tears trickled down on his cheeks. On being asked, the Happy Prince told him about his luxurious life and having remained negligent about the woes of his subjects. He asked the little swallow to stay with him and run his errands to lessen the woes of suffering men.
The little swallow refused to stay with the Happy Prince on the plea that he was waited for in Egypt by his friends. They had a program to fly up the second great cataract. Hence he was very anxious to join his friends and see wonderful places in the pyramids of Egypt. But when he saw the sad face of the Happy Prince, he agreed to be his messenger.
On the first night, the prince sent the swallow with the precious Ruby to the seamstress whose son was ill and demanding orange to quench his feverish thirst but the mother had nothing except river water. The swallow took the ruby in his beak, placed it on teh table near the thimble and came back.
On the second night, the prince commanded the swallow to pluck out the sapphire from one of his eyes and take that to the young dramatist who was trying to complete a play sitting in a garret across the city. The dramatist had become weak because of hunger. The swallow acted accordingly.
On the third night, the prince ordered the swallow to pluck the other sapphire from his second eye and deliver it to a bare-headed small girl who was without shoes and her matches had fallen in the gutter. She was weeping because she feared that if she went home without money, her father would beat her. The swallow did accordingly.
Now the prince became blind and the little swallow decided to stay permanently with him. During the day, the swallow sat on the shoulder of the Happy Prince and told him the stories of what he had seen in strange lands.
The prince is said that the most marvelous thing in the world was the suffering of men and women. He passes key remarks ‘There is no Mystery so great as Misery.’ The Prince asked the little swallow to fly over the city and tell him about the suffering men and women. The swallow flew over the city and saw that the rich were making merry in their palaces and the beggars sat at their gates. He saw the starving children wandering shelter-less in the rain.
The Happy Prince felt great grief over the general misery common to all men and women. The Prince asked the little swallow to take gold leaf by leaf from his body and distribute it among the needy and the poor. His efforts proved fruitful. The deprived children also became healthy and happy. Now they laughed and played about in the streets. But the statue of the Happy Prince lost its beauty and attraction. One day the mayor saw that shabby structure and ordered to pull it down and make his statue to set on the column.
Now the snow had begun to fall and cold had become unbearable for the little swallow. He had become very weak due to insufficient food. The swallow kissed the lips of the Happy Prince and fell dead at his feet. This shock broke the heart of the Happy Prince. The dead body of the swallow was thrown on the dust heap. The statue was put in a furnace to mold its mettle into a new statue, but its cracked head did not melt. It was also thrown on the same heap of dust where the dead body of the swallow was lying. In the eyes of the world, both these objects were quite worthless.
God ordered one of His Angels to bring Him the two most precious things in the city. The Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird. God was highly pleased with the right choice of Angel. Hence God said that swallow would sing His garden of paradise and the Happy Prince shall praise God forever in His gold city.
The title of the story, “The Happy Prince” is itself ironical. The Happy Prince in reality is the most unhappy and miserable as he often weeps over the miseries of his ex-subjects. He is, in fact, reaping was he sowed in his life. During his life, he remained quite aloof and detached from the problems of his subjects. His courtiers who were only psycho pants called him the Happy Prince. They were the real cause of keeping him ignorant from the life of his countrymen.
It is perhaps such feeling of irresponsibility and avoiding duty during his life that make him bemoan and sorrowful. Now he wants to make amends for his carefree life. Ignorance of reality can never be appreciable. The Happy Prince is now trying to become really happy. Now he can look upon the sufferings and miseries of the poor. He has realized his neglect by having remained devoted to luxuries and cut off from the realities of life, which made him only superficially happy. We can say that the Prince at last became happy after atoning for his sins by his sincere love and sacrifice for the humanity at large.
Oscar Wilde conveyed a lesson
The Happy Prince has a fairy tale mode of expression. It gives a very subtle explanation of human nature. And, It also throws light on the bitter realities of life. It points out the salient problems of Victorian Age, such as poverty, hypocrisy, and exploitation. The story contains great moral lesson for all. The writer asserts that spiritual beauty is more valuable than physical beauty. The statue of the Happy Prince is very costly and beautiful. It becomes even more valuable in the eyes of God when the prince gives away all its pearls and gold to the needy.
Though outwardly it becomes gloomier, the prince is spiritually elevated. What appears physically harmful is spiritually useful. The Happy Prince in his actual life devoted himself to physical luxuries but deteriorated himself spiritually. The swallow also achieves perfect beauty by sacrificing his life for the prince. In each case, love and sacrifice are the saving forces. The reality of what is good and beautiful is not observable with physical eye. It can be visualized with spiritual insight. The Happy Prince renders invaluable services to the needy and achieves the height of virtuous glory. The same attitude is hoped from those well-off people who can change the miserable plight of people.