The Happy Prince
By Oscar Wilde
About the Author
Oscar Wilde was a popular literary figure in late Victorian England, known for his brilliant wit, flamboyant style and infamous imprisonment for homosexuality. He was born in Dublin on 16 October 1854 to Sir William Wilde and his wife Jane. Oscar’s mother, Lady Jane Francesca Wilde was a successful poet and journalist and his father, Sir William Wilde was a leading ear and eye surgeon, a renowned philanthropist and gifted writer, who wrote books on archaeology and folklore. Oscar had an elder brother, Willie, and a younger sister, Isola Francesca, who died at the early age of 10.
After he graduated, he moved to Chelsea in London (1879) to establish a literary career. In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry – Poems that received mixed reviews by critics. He worked as an art reviewer, lectured in the United States and Canada, and lived in Paris.
On May 29, 1884, Oscar married Constance Lloyd. They had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. To support his family, Oscar accepted a job as the editor of Woman’s World magazine, where he worked from 1887-1889.
In 1888, he published The Happy Prince and Other Tales, fairy-stories written for his two sons. His first and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published in 1891 and received quite a negative response.
Wilde’s greatest talent was for writing plays. His first successful play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, opened in February 1892. He produced a string of extremely popular comedies including A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest. These plays were all highly acclaimed and firmly established Oscar as a playwright.
Around the same time that he was enjoying his greatest literary success, Wilde commenced an affair with a young man named Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed Bosie who became both the love of his life and his downfall. Wilde’s marriage ended in 1893. Oscar’s case was unsuccessful and he was himself arrested and tried for gross indecency. He was sentenced to two years of hard labour for the crime of sodomy.
Wilde emerged from prison in 1897, physically depleted and emotionally exhausted. He went into exile in France where living in cheap hotels and friends’ apartments, he briefly reunited with Douglas. Wilde wrote very little during these last years; his only notable work was a poem he completed in 1898 about his experiences in prison, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” He died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900 at the age of 46 penniless, in a cheap Paris hotel.
Image & text reference: famousauthors.org, biography.com
The story is about a prince who used to be very happy when he was alive. He learnt about sorrow only after his death, when his statue was placed at a high point from where the misery of the entire city could be seen. Moved by the plight of the poor, the Happy Prince gave away all his possessions to the needy with the help of a kind swallow. This compassionate bird sacrificed his life for the noble cause of the Prince. The story is based on the theme that love and sacrifice are important values in human life and happiness comes to those who make others happy.
This story is about a Prince. When the prince was alive, he was very happy. After his death, a big statue of his was erected on a pedestal and covered with gold. There were two sapphires in place of his eyes. He had a ruby in his sword hilt. From there, the statue of Prince could see the entire city. When he was alive, he lived in a palace. He was always happy. He had not seen the miseries of life. But now he could see miseries around him. He saw the hungry and the homeless. He was very sad. He was filled with pity. One day, a swallow came there. He saw the prince in tears. The prince told him that he wanted to help the poor and sad people. He sent his ruby and the sapphires of his eyes to the poor people. Now he was blind. He sent his gold also. Now he looked ugly. The swallow began to love the prince. The winter came but the swallow did not go away. He lived with the prince. One day, the swallow died. This broke the leaden heart of the statue. The statue was no longer beautiful. When the statue was melted in the furnace, the heart did not melt and was thrown in the garbage. The dead swallow was also lying there. God sent one of his angels to bring the two most precious things. He took the dead swallow and the leaden heart to God. Both these things were really fit for paradise.
Q. Why do the courtiers call the prince ‘the Happy Prince’? Is he really happy? What does he see all around him?
Ans. The prince was called the ‘Happy Prince’ because all his life, he had lived in happiness. After his death, his statue was put up in the middle of the town. From there he could see the plight of the people which made him unhappy. The sight of poor, sad people made him unhappy.
Q. Why does the Happy Prince send a ruby for the seamstress? What does the swallow do in the seamstress’ house?
Ans. The Happy Prince sends ruby so that the seamstress can get good amount of money after selling it. With money she can buy medicines for her child. She can be in a position to pay more attention to her child. At present her economic needs don’t permit her to pay proper attention to her child.
The swallow flutters her wings over the sick boy’s head so that he would feel easy. Feeling the relief from high temperature the boy falls asleep.
Q. For whom does the prince send the sapphires and why?
Ans. The Prince sends sapphires to help the play writer and the little girl. The young writer was trying to finish a play for the Director of the Theatre. However, he was too cold to write anymore, there was no fire in the grate and hunger had made him faint. He sent the sapphire to the young playwright so that he could sell it to the jeweller, buy firewood, and finish his play. On seeing the sapphire, the young man felt appreciated and believed that he could finish his play.
The Happy Prince then saw a little match girl who was standing in the square just below him. She had let her matches fall in the gutter because of which they were all spoiled. The prince knew that her father would beat her if she did not bring home some money. When the swallow slipped the jewel into the palm of the little girl’s hand, she ran home happy and laughing. Prince wants to help as many people as he could.
Q. What does the swallow see when it flies over the city?
Ans. The swallow bird saw the rich making merry in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates. He flew into dark lanes, and saw the white faces of starving children looking out listlessly at the black streets. Under the archway of a bridge two little boys were lying in each other’s arms trying to keep themselves warm. They were hungry. They ran away from there when the watchman shouted at them.
Q. Why did the swallow not leave the prince and go to Egypt?
Ans. While helping people the Prince loses his eyes and becomes blind. The swallow seems to be touched by Prince’s sacrifice. Moreover it is also touched by poor’s plight. It thinks of helping poor with the help of the prince. So the swallow decides to stay with the prince.
Q. What are the precious things mentioned in the story? Why are they precious?
Ans. There are two precious things in the story: the Prince’s leaden heart and the dead swallow. They were both precious because they were kind and selfless. The Prince was sad as he saw so many people suffering in his city. He gave away his ruby, sapphires and all his gold to them. He did not think about himself for once. He was more concerned about the well-being of his people even though he was dead.
The little swallow was precious because it showed kindness by carrying the Prince’s messages to the poor and deciding to stay back for the Prince when he was blind, though he knew that he would face difficulties in winter, which was fast approaching. It actively participated in helping the poor and needy in the city. The swallow was so precious that when it died and fell down at the Prince’s feet, the Prince’s leaden heart broke into two.
When God asked 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 said that the little bird would forever sing in His garden of Paradise and the Happy Prince would praise Him in His city of gold.
Long Answer Type Questions
Q. Describe the sufferings of the poor people in the city. How did The Happy Prince help them?
Ans. The poor people in the city were miserable. The Happy Prince saw their sorrows and sufferings. There was a poor seamstress. She was sad and tired. But she had nothing to give him except the river water. In another house, there lived a poor playwright. He had no wood to keep himself warm. There was a little match girl. She had no shoes or stockings. The Prince also saw the homeless and children. They were hungry and were shivering with cold. The Prince felt pity for them. He sent the ruby to the poor woman. He sent one sapphire each to the young man and the match girl. He sent all the gold of his body to these children. Now they could buy bread and be happy. Thus the Happy Prince helped the poor and sad people of his city.
Q. Why did the Happy Prince send a ruby to the seamstress?
Ans. The Happy Prince was very kind. He saw the ugliness and misery of his city. He saw a small house. In this house there lived a poor woman. She was a seamstress. Her face was thin. She looked tired. Her hands were rough. There were needle marks on them. She was embroidering flowers on a satin gown. Her son was ill. He wanted to cat oranges. But the woman was very poor. She could not give him anything except the river water. She could not leave the town. The Queen’s maid had to wear it at the next court ball. The Happy Prince felt pity for the poor woman and his son. He wanted to help them. So he sent a ruby to her.
Q. Draw a brief character sketch of the Happy Prince
Ans. The Happy Prince was a statue. He stood on a tall pillar. He had two sapphires for his eyes. His body was covered with leaves of gold. There was ruby in his sword hilt. When he was alive he was very happy. He did not know any sorrow or misery. People called him the Happy Prince. After his death, he was set on a high pillar. Now he could see poverty and misery all around him. His heart was filled with pity. He tried to help the poor people. He sent the ruby to the poor seamstress. He sent the sapphires of his eyes to the playwright and the match girl. He sent the gold of his body to the poor and hungry children. He loved the swallow. When the swallow died, his heart broke. Thus the Happy Prince was a kind and loving man.
Q. Give a brief Character-sketch of the swallow.
Ans. The little swallow plays an important role in this story. He was going to Egypt. His friends were waiting for him. But the Prince requested him to stay for one day more. He agreed. At the request of the Prince, he took the ruby to the seamstress. He took the sapphires of the Prince’s eyes to the young man and the poor girl. Now the Prince was blind. So he decided to stay with the Prince. The swallow had a kind heart. He fanned the son of the poor woman and gave him comfort. Then winter came. The swallow lived in the snow. He had only crumbs to eat. But he did not leave the Prince. One day the swallow died. But even death could not separate him from the prince. The angel of God took the swallow and the Prince’s heart to paradise.
Q. How did the swallow exhibit the values of unconditional love and devotion?
Ans. The swallow happened to stop by at the city where the statue of the Happy Prince was placed. It was sheer chance that he took shelter between the feet of the statue for just one night on way to Egypt, but stayed back till his last breath because he was moved by the Prince’s selfless love, kindness and spirit of self-sacrifice. This act of the swallow shows the qualities of compassion, understanding and helpfulness in his character. He helped the Prince by becoming his messenger and carrying the jewels from the statue to the seamstress, the playwright and the match girl. He became a constant companion to the Prince after both the sapphires had been plucked out from his eye sockets. The swallow loved the Prince unconditionally and became his eyes by flying over the city and reporting the hardships and miseries of the people. He would faithfully follow all the orders of the Prince and carry the gold leaves from the statue and give them to the needy. Thus, the good values of the swallow helped him to remain a loving companion to the Prince till cold and hunger snatched away his life.
Q. What happened to the statue of the Prince and the swallow in the end?
Ans. The swallow and the Happy Prince became friends. The swallow loved the Prince for his kindness. He decided not to go away. The Prince sent his ruby and the sapphires of his eyes to the poor people. He sent the gold of his body to the poor children. Now he was blind and ugly. Then winter came. The little swallow felt very cold. But he did not leave the Prince. One day, the swallow died. The leaden heart of the Prince broke in two. The next day, the statue was pulled down. It was melted in a furnace. But leaden heart did not melt. It was thrown into a heap. The dead body of the swallow was also lying there. God sent his angel to bring the two most precious things from the city. The angel brought him the leaden heart of the Prince and the dead body of the swallow.