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Literature / The Happy Prince

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"The Happy Prince" is a fairy tale by Oscar Wilde about a romantic swallow and the statue of a prince, who, after spending all his life in luxury, is turned into a statue who watches all the misery outside his palace.

It's currently in public domain, and can be read in full here.

This tale provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Animated Adaptation: Sad enough to scar your childhood, featuring Glynnis Johns and Christopher Plummer. Available here.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ultimately, the Swallow never rejoins its flock and dies from the cold, and the Prince's gifts go unnoticed by the rest of the village. Both are disposed of once they see the Prince's now-shabby state, but God sends His angels to retrieve their remains and welcome them into the kingdom of Heaven.
  • But Now I Must Go: Subverted. The Swallow repeatedly warns the Happy Prince that it needs to leave for Egypt and return to its flock, but the Prince doesn't let the Swallow go despite the latter's pleas. He does eventually allow the bird to leave after his last eye had been gifted away, but the Swallow offers to stay because it felt guilty about the Prince being unable to see anymore.
  • Died Happily Ever After: "For in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me."
  • Friend to All Living Things: Happy Prince oversees humans suffering and sympathizes for them all.
  • Gilded Cage: The Prince more or less lived in one of these when alive, since he wasn't even allowed to experience sadness and felt shocked when he looked onto the town as a statue and saw mostly poverty and misery.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The Happy Prince sacrifices his sapphire eyes and all the gold leaves he is covered with. The Swallow helps him delivering them until he dies, as he can't stand the cold weather. And nobody finds them of any value afterward.
  • Humans Are Flawed: Given Wilde's sarcastic tone seen in the descriptions of the human characters. The people the Prince and Swallow help are at least grateful for their Mysterious Benefactor giving them means to survive with, but there are also many townsfolk who aren't so kind. Also provoked in the end where the humans do not acknowledge the Happy Prince's sacrifices and see him as an old, ugly statue decorated with a dead swallow, all while the readers know what's really going on.
  • Interspecies Romance: The swallow is in love with a reed plant early in the story.
  • Ironic Name:
    "Who are you?" [The Swallow] said.
    "I am the Happy Prince."
    "Why are you weeping then?"
  • Last Kiss: Just before the Swallow dies, the Prince, thinking the former is just leaving for Egypt, asks it to kiss him on the lips before it goes. The Swallow obliges, and promptly drops down dead at his feet.
  • Samaritan Syndrome:
    • The Happy Prince can't abide seeing people in misery when he can sacrifice the precious jewels and metals he's made of to help them get out of their poverty.
    • Likewise, the Swallow insists on getting back en route to Egypt to join the rest of its flock, but seeing the Prince's sorrow over the village people makes it stay to do as the Prince commands. And when both of the Prince's eyes are gifted away, the Swallow remains to tell the statue stories and deliver the gold leaf from his body.
  • Shout-Out: One of the villagers the Prince commands the Swallow to help is a little match-girl who hasn't sold any of her wares, often gets beaten if she doesn't return with profit, and is working in the middle of a harsh winter.
  • Stealth Pun: The description of the reed, which is full of double entendres about plants.
    [...]The Reed shook her head, she was so attached to her home.
  • Spoiled Sweet: A rare male example. The Happy Prince's back story is that he was an absolutely happy person who knew no sadness and hardship. Meanwhile, he was also a genuinely kind person and retained his kindness even after death.
  • Symbolically Broken Object: The Happy Prince's heart of lead breaks with a loud crack at the same moment that the swallow dies.
  • Take That!: Toward human teachers, philosophers, and those who are attached to logic and judge things by the covers.
  • Tears from a Stone: The Happy Prince is a statue, but on the first meeting with the Swallow he apparently cries to the point where his tears awaken the bird.