The Happy Prince, Oscar Wilde: Summary, Analysis & Themes

The story of "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde revolves around an unusual bond between a deceased ruler and a compassionate bird. Once a wealthy and extravagant monarch, the Happy Prince is now immortalized as a magnificent statue in his city.

Summary: The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde

The Sad Affair

Despite being a lifeless statue, the Happy Prince bears the burden of witnessing the suffering of his townspeople, which deeply affects him. One day, a swallow, separated from its family and feeling lost, stumbles upon the statue. Moved by the sorrowful expression on the Prince's face, the swallow decides to stay.

Prince's Regret and Plea

The Prince opens up to the empathetic swallow, confessing his past life of luxury and disregard for the hardships of his subjects. Filled with remorse, he implores the bird to help him rectify his mistakes. The Prince suggests that the swallow should seek out those in need and distribute the precious ornaments adorning the statue to assist the suffering.

The Unraveling Friendship

As the swallow begins its charitable mission, the once grand and adorned statue gradually loses its opulence, becoming worn and weathered. Simultaneously, the bird, while developing feelings for the statue, grieves over its lost family. Nevertheless, the genuine friendship between the two deepens.

The Harsh Winter

As winter arrives, the frail swallow realizes that it may not survive the harsh season. In a touching farewell, the bird embraces its friend for the last time and passes away at the foot of the statue. The Happy Prince is heartbroken witnessing the demise of his beloved companion.

The New Ruler's Decision

The following day, the new ruler of the city observes the sad state of the old Prince's statue and the lifeless swallow beside it. Intent on establishing his own legacy, the new ruler orders the removal of the only remaining memory of the past monarch.

The Final Journey

The statue is thrown into a fire, but to everyone's surprise, its broken heart remains intact, lying next to the swallow's lifeless body. At this moment, a supernatural event occurs as God appears on the scene, accompanied by an angel.

The Divine Evaluation

God instructs the angel to find the most precious thing from the city. The angel evaluates the city's material wealth but ultimately brings back the charred heart of the Happy Prince and the corpse of the swallow. God deems these two seemingly insignificant objects as priceless due to the profound emotions and love they represent.

In this poignant tale, Wilde beautifully illustrates the true essence of love, sacrifice, and compassion, emphasizing that genuine care for others is the most valuable treasure one can possess. The Happy Prince and the selfless swallow become symbols of eternal compassion and goodness, reminding us of the importance of empathy and kindness in our lives.

Analysis of Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde


In "The Happy Prince," Oscar Wilde employs various symbols to convey deeper meanings and emotions within the narrative. The dead statue of the Prince, adorned with precious ornaments, serves as a symbol of superficial appearances. However, as the story unfolds, the Prince's true compassion and empathy are revealed, showcasing that true beauty lies within.

The reed, representing fleeting pleasures of material beauty, is a metaphor for the transient nature of worldly possessions. Wilde also uses foreign and exotic places like Egypt as symbols of mythical beauty and romance, illustrating the allure of distant lands and experiences.

Children in the story symbolize purity, innocence, and incorruptible beauty. Their vulnerability and dependence on others highlight the importance of caring for the less fortunate.

Furthermore, officials and politicians are portrayed as symbols of corruption and greed, reflecting the dark side of power and authority. On the other hand, God is depicted as merciful and benevolent, representing divine love and compassion.


"The Happy Prince" is set in a city with Victorian moral values, providing a backdrop of societal norms and expectations. The presence of a ruling kingship and dependent subjects underscores the hierarchical structure of the society. The stark contrast between the opulence of the rich and the poverty of the poor emphasizes the prevalent inequality in the city.

The mention of Egypt and other distant places adds richness and exoticism to the setting, contributing to the fairy tale-like ambiance of the story.

Moral Lesson

At its core, the moral lesson of "The Happy Prince" urges readers to recognize and appreciate the true beauty in people beyond mere appearances. The story celebrates the virtues of piety, compassion, and charity, highlighting the importance of selflessness and caring for others, particularly the less fortunate.

Through its portrayal of greed and materialistic tendencies, the narrative serves as a critique of those who prioritize wealth and possessions over the well-being of their fellow human beings. It calls for a shift in perspective and an understanding that true happiness and fulfillment come from acts of kindness and empathy.

Additionally, the story conveys the idea that goodness and compassion will ultimately triumph over ugliness and selfishness, implying a hopeful outlook on divine judgment and the eternal significance of selfless actions.

In conclusion, "The Happy Prince" uses symbolism, setting, and moral lessons to craft a powerful and moving tale that inspires readers to embrace compassion, charity, and the intrinsic beauty of humanity. It urges us to look beyond surface appearances and make a positive difference in the lives of others, fostering a more compassionate and caring society.

Themes: Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde

Affection and Compassion

The central theme of "The Happy Prince" revolves around affection and compassion. The Prince's deep affection for his people is carried on by the Swallow, leading to a blossoming romance between the two. Despite the Swallow's initial desire to leave, its love for the Prince and the needy people of the city binds it to stay and help.

Throughout the story, the platonic love between the Swallow and the Prince is romanticized, demonstrating the power of caring for others and the warmth it brings to their lives.

Appearance versus True Worth

A significant theme in the story is the contrast between appearance and true worth. The bejeweled and decorated statue of the Prince represents wealth and opulence, seemingly equated with happiness. However, it is revealed to be a shallow and deceptive existence, as the Prince is appalled by the suffering of the impoverished in his city.

The narrative portrays how material wealth often blinds people to the real needs and struggles of those less fortunate. For the poor, even precious gemstones hold little value compared to the basic necessities of life, like food and shelter. The story emphasizes the importance of looking beyond appearances to recognize the true value of individuals and their well-being.

Inequality and Social Disparities

"The Happy Prince" sheds light on the stark inequalities and social disparities prevalent in the city. The extravagant lifestyle of the privileged rulers stands in stark contrast to the abject poverty endured by the common people. The story highlights how the rich often exploit and ignore the suffering of the poor.

The adorned statue of the Prince symbolizes the wealth and privilege enjoyed by the ruling class, while the broken leaden heart inside reflects the hidden struggles and hardships experienced by the masses.

Faith and Altruism

Religious themes are evident in the portrayal of the Prince's character, which echoes the selflessness and suffering of figures like Jesus Christ. The story promotes values of charity and altruism through the Prince's actions as he endeavors to ease the pain of his people.

Additionally, there are elements of idol worship, where the statue of the Happy Prince becomes an object of reverence. The presence of God and the angel at the end of the story further accentuates the spiritual undertones, appreciating Christianity's virtues while also critiquing the materialistic pursuits of others.

In conclusion, "The Happy Prince" delves into profound themes of affection, appearance versus true worth, social inequalities, and faith. Through its poignant narrative, Wilde urges readers to embrace compassion and empathy, recognizing the true value of individuals beyond superficial appearances. The story serves as a timeless reminder of the significance of altruism and caring for others in creating a more just and compassionate society.

Characterization: The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde

The Prince

As a dead statue, the Prince undergoes a profound transformation, becoming more aware of the suffering and misery of his people even in his lifeless form. Driven by his newfound empathy, he seeks to help his subjects through the lavish decorations of his statue, sacrificing his opulence for the betterment of others.

Upon meeting the Swallow, the Prince forms a deep connection with the bird and entrusts it with the task of assisting the needy. Throughout the narrative, the Prince's affection for the Swallow grows, leading to a confession of love for the bird. In the heartbreaking conclusion, he experiences immense sorrow at the sight of his beloved Swallow's death.

The City People

The story introduces various characters representing the people of the city, each facing different hardships. There is a young girl selling goods on the street, symbolizing the struggles of the impoverished youth. An old woman portrayed as unable to survive on meager means illustrates the vulnerability of the elderly in society.

Additionally, the story features old Jewish men arguing over money, highlighting the prevalence of greed and materialism. The orphans harassed by guards exemplify the oppression faced by the most vulnerable members of society.

The Divine and the Envoy

In the story's conclusion, God appears as a representation of divine justice and mercy. God rewards the genuine bond of affection and empathy between the Prince and the Swallow by granting them the riches of Paradise, underscoring the value of compassion and selflessness.

The presence of the envoy, an angel tasked with collecting the city's most prized objects, further emphasizes the spiritual themes in the story. The angel's choice of the Prince's heart and the Swallow's lifeless body as the most valuable items reinforces the significance of their profound bond.

The Swallow

The Swallow serves as a symbol of love and sacrifice in the narrative. Initially, the Swallow abandons its family's migration to warm Egypt to pursue its heart's desire for a reed, which ultimately leads to heartbreak when the reed betrays it.

Upon encountering the Prince's statue, the Swallow forms a strong bond with the Prince, learning about his virtues and concerns for others. Through this friendship, the Swallow develops empathy and gradually falls in love with the Prince.

Dedicating itself to helping the Prince, the Swallow selflessly distributes the gemstones from the statue to the needy, exemplifying the essence of compassion and charity. In the poignant conclusion, the Swallow chooses to remain with the Prince and ultimately sacrifices its life, succumbing to the harsh winter cold, right beside its beloved companion.

In "The Happy Prince," Wilde masterfully weaves a tale of transformation, compassion, and sacrifice through the vivid characterization of its central figures. The story's exploration of affection, empathy, and the true value of selfless actions serves as a timeless reminder of the profound impact of love and kindness on the lives of others.

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