Oscar Wilde's Fairytales as Society Reflection
Oscar Wilde lived at the turn of the centuries, an epoch when the old values of Romanticism seemed to vanish under the influence of approaching new pragmatic age. In his fairytales, he reveals how humans are vulnerable and can be easily broken by the cruel world. He explores the clash of fragile human soul with reality, which tries to oppress individuality. Wilde’s fairytales might be tragic, but they demonstrate the victory of love and altruism, which means that humanity has a hope for revival. In terms of practical social issues, he focuses on poverty and injustice, which he believes will be resolved by creating a new type of society, based on social equality and respect for each individual human.
One of the most powerful fairytales that touch upon the theme of the material and spiritual is The Happy Prince. This fairytale is a parable about how true values win over the false ones and yet how society prefers not to notice them. The Happy Prince is a symbolic figure who is made of marble and is covered with gold, rubies, and emeralds. He is appreciated by society for this exterior beauty and gloss, though in fact, this stone is dead. He is away from real hardships of his people because he does not live his own life; he has lost himself in the heatless society who notices him only because he is beautiful. Only when he meets the Swallow who tells him about the pain that people feel, he realizes what true love is. By means of self-sacrifice, he learns sympathy and love and frees his own soul. The manifesto of Wilde about poverty and the meaning of wealth in society is spoken out by the Prince: "I am covered with fine gold," said the Prince, "you must take it off, leaf by leaf, and give it to my poor; the living always think that gold can make them happy"(Wilde). Thus, on the one hand, he feels compassion to the poor, but, on the other hand, he, as a symbol of richness, realizes that it is wrong to ascribe so much significance to wealth. As a critic mentions, "Wilde expresses his belief that human society will inevitably evolve towards socialism, and that socialism will lead to Individualism ... According to Individualism, ‘the proper aim of human life is not a self-denying altruism but rather a perfecting of the self, which is achieved by opposing ‘conformity, consistency, imitation, philanthropy, charity, property, and the mob’" (Knowles and Malmkjaer 189-190).
In the same way, The Start-Child reflects on the same theme about the social and individual function of a person. In the fairytale, the protagonist makes a way of moral transformation through suffering, slavery, and poverty. The author believes that it is necessary for a person to experience grief and poverty in order to open one’s heart and get rid of pride. At the same time, poverty and injustice as they are do not enlighten people. On the contrary, the existence of poverty creates a myth that money can bring happiness. As a result, people live in illusion for all their lives because many of them have no opportunity to check this statement. Only when they obtain wealth, they realize that this is not what makes happy, but this is too late. It is noteworthy that The Start-Child is contemplation about the qualities of a good ruler. In fact, the challenges make the hero a better person but the ending of the story is quite ironic: “Yet ruled he not long, so great had been his suffering, and so bitter the fire of his testing, for after the space of three years he died. And he who came after him ruled evilly” (Wilde). Thus, the author believes that building a perfect society is a long-term, if not impossible, mission.
Finally, the fairytale The Young King is similar to the previous ones because of the same theme of good rulers shared. As a critic states, “The Young King is just about to become a king when we meet him, and the story traces his growth from one fascinated by the finery of kingship to one who rejects it because of its human cost and who understands and teaches his subjects that kingship is a moral or spiritual state” (Knowles and Malmkjaer 195). The difference with other fairytales is that the king does not die but finds himself and his true identity, which lies beyond power.
Thus, in his fairytales The Young King, The Star-Child, and The Happy Prince, Oscar Wilde explores the same social and moral issues. He discusses the correlation between happiness, wealth, and power and questions the meaning of the latter two. He thinks that poverty is devastating and can be only helpful for a person who needs to face it consciously for a period of time in order to find his own soul through suffering. The author hopes for building a better just society but feels that this takes time. On the other hand, he is sure that this society can be created only through individual work of each particular person.
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