This study guide will help you analyze the short story “The Happy Prince” (1888) by Oscar Wilde. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was an Irish poet, short story writer and playwright. “The Happy Prince” was included in the short story collection for children The Happy Prince and Other Tales, first published in May 1888.
Here, you can read an extract from our study guide:
Metaphor and similes
The Prince believes he was happy during his lifetime “if pleasure be happiness”. The phrasing suggests that the Happy Prince once thought that pleasure was happiness, but now he has come to doubt that. The metaphor of pleasure as happiness points to the Happy Prince’s limited understanding – having only known pleasure, he mistook it for happiness. However, the statue of the Happy Prince gains a new awareness, which makes him doubt that the life he used to lead could be called happy.
When winter arrives to the city, “the streets looked as if they were made of silver, they were so bright and glistening; long icicles like crystal daggers hung from the eaves of the houses”. The city in winter is compared with valuable objects like silver and crystals. The simile comparing the city with precious jewels and metals is another irony, as we know the city is in fact poor, underneath its bright façade.
When the Mayor and the Town Councilors look at the Happy Prince at the end of the story, they remark that he is “ ‘little better than a beggar’ ”. This simile is meant to illustrate the changeable nature of social appreciation, and the value people place on appearance. Their admiration for the Happy Prince turns to disgust once he loses his precious jewels and gold.