The Young King and The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde are both stories about having a change of heart towards others, mainly the poor and underprivileged. The Young King has a change of heart when he has 3 dreams, all making the young Prince’s eyes open to the struggles of the poor at the hands of the rich and powerful. The Swallow has a change of heart because he was in love with the happy Prince and wanted to impress him and make him happy no matter what. Both stories are about receiving indulgence but then becoming repulsed at self-indulgence and beauty, but they are rewarded in very different ways.
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Oscar Wilde’s story of the “The Young King” is about a young man’s transformation from rags to riches when the old king was on his death bed, he told the hunter to find his grandson so that the kingdom had an heir. The young king was the son of the king’s daughter and of a wandering lute player or an artist. The young king becomes so captivated with the beauty of the items especially his outfit for the coronation ceremony it is said: “from the very first moment of his recognition he had shown signs of that strange passion for beauty that he was destined to have so great an influence over his life” (Wilde 142), that he turns his back on the people in need. The Night Before of his coronation, the young king wakes up from 3 dreams filled with dreadful images of ugliness and death, all opening his eyes to the struggle of the poor, who are exploited by the wealthy and powerful for their own needs. Although there is no textbook definition of a hero in this story, one could argue that because the young king chose to give up all of the materialistic items, he saves himself subconsciously through his dreams from growing self-absorbed, materialistic, and willfully ignorant of others’ suffering. The king becomes stained with the images of the dreams when getting ready for his coronation that he chooses to dress in goat herder clothing. The morality in this story seems to be not to change who you are for the sake of others, be true to yourself, and people will accept you. The townspeople did not understand why the Young King chose to come out in regular townsfolk clothing, but after he told them his dreams, they looked up to him in awe he was looked at as an “angel” (Wilde 153).
Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” is about a statue of a prince who was happy when alive but becomes unhappy, being fixed in his statue and observing daily on the sufferings of his people which he had been blind too before, and a swallow who falls in love with the statue. They give their lives to help the less fortunate. Swallow does not initially have the same empathy that the Happy Prince has, but as he grows to love the prince he becomes empathetic and falls in love with him and decides to stay with the Prince to no ends. The qualities of self-sacrifice, charity, and sympathy are essential in the Prince’s giving up of his stunning gems and gold to take care of the citizens. The Prince feels more vibrant on the inside for helping the underprivileged, but not on the outside. The statue is removed because all of the beauty and wealth is now gone, which shows the true nature of the citizens that they only care about the material beauty. It is said in the story, “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful” (78). The Swallow and the Happy Prince are both collectively the hero of this story - the Happy Prince turns the Swallow to become empathetic for the poor instead that thinking only about himself and gives the Swallow the materials to help the people who need help. The Swallow does it because he is in love with the Happy Prince, even though the Swallow dies at the Happy Prince’s feet he has done all of the work to help the people. Both the Prince and the Swallow receive no glory from the kingdom, and the kingdom officials see an ugly statue and a dead bird. Nevertheless, the Prince and the Swallow receive a place in heaven because God determines that they belong in heaven for the good things that they have done and who they are. The moral of this story could be that ignorance is bliss, but knowledge gives the power to do something to fix issues.
The Happy Prince differs from the Young King because the Happy Prince almost had no choice but to acknowledge and watch the citizens suffer. After all, he was encased in the statue, while the Young King could have just brushed it off and pretended his dreams did not happen so that he could enjoy all of the riches that he now had access too; but he chose not to. The Young King’s dreams helped him, but most of all, helped the kingdom the most. Another way the stories are different in that the Happy Prince ropes the Swallow to do all of the work that the Prince is unable to do, and the Swallow dies at the hands of the Prince, but the Young King goes and changes things for himself. Then again, the Swallow would not have been able to do anything about it if it wasn’t for the self-sacrifice of the Prince, as he was the one asked the Swallow to take all the gold and gemstones from him, losing all the beauty and give it to those in need. Finally, the heroes in the Happy Prince die, while the Young king does not. Somehow the Young King seemed to avoid death by humbling himself. Maybe because he gave up the things he liked most because he realized the wealthy and powerful were taking advantage before he had done the same, unlike the Happy Prince, who was ignorant of that fact and only realized when he had become a statue on top of a hill. The Young King is seen as an angel, but the Happy Prince legitimately becomes an angel.
- Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Short Stories. Oxford University Press Inc, 2010. Print.
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