The Happy Prince

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Happy Prince Character Analysis

The Happy Prince is both the protagonist of this story and its namesake. Once a sheltered prince who led a life of pleasure, the Happy Prince was turned into a gilded statue upon his death and placed upon a pedestal overlooking his town. The Prince is described as exceedingly beautiful with golden skin, sapphires for eyes, and a ruby on his sword-hilt. Although his external beauty impresses everyone around him, he sees that beauty as only skin-deep; his true worth lies in his compassion for his townspeople and his willingness to sacrifice for them. The Happy Prince suffers, however, due to his sympathy for all of the misery he can see from his high perch. The “happiness” of this name is thus ironic, as the Prince describes having only experienced a false happiness in his previous life of pleasure, when he was ignorant of the true misery surrounding him. The Prince is ultimately a Christ-like figure, looking over humanity and sacrificing his life to alleviate their pain. Descriptions of the Prince also allude to classical understandings of wisdom and mentorship. The figure of the Prince, with his eloquent rhetoric and affinity for morally upstanding behavior, represents classical Greek and Roman ideals—in particular, the relationship that he develops with the younger Swallow alludes to classical mentor/mentee relationships.

The Happy Prince Quotes in The Happy Prince

The The Happy Prince quotes below are all either spoken by The Happy Prince or refer to The Happy Prince. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover edition of The Happy Prince published in 2012.
The Happy Prince Quotes

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt. He was very much admired indeed. "He is as beautiful as a weathercock," remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; "only not quite so useful," he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical…

Related Characters: The Town Councillors (speaker), The Happy Prince
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

The eyes of the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and tears were running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity. "Who are you?" he said: "I am the Happy Prince." "Why are you weeping then?" asked the Swallow; "you have quite drenched me."

Related Characters: The Happy Prince (speaker), The Swallow (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

"When I was alive and had a human heart," answered the statue, "l did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening, I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep."

Related Characters: The Happy Prince (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Lead Heart
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

"ln the square below," said the Happy Prince, "there stands a little matchgirl. She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled. Her father will beat her if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying. She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare. Pluck out my other eye, and give it to her, and her father will not beat her." "l will stay with you one night longer," said the Swallow, "but I cannot pluck out your eye. You would be quite blind then." "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow," said the Prince, "do as I command you," So he plucked out the Prince's other eye, and darted down with it. He swooped past the match-girl, and slipped the jewel into the palm of her hand. "What a lovely bit of glass," cried the little girl; and she ran home, laughing. Then the Swallow came back to the Prince. "You are blind now," he said 'so I will stay with you always."

Related Characters: The Happy Prince (speaker), The Swallow (speaker), The Little Match-Girl
Related Symbols: Children
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

"Dear little Swallow," said the Prince, “you tell me of marvellous things, but more marvellous than anything is the suffering of men and of women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there." So the Swallow flew over the great city, and saw the rich making merry in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates. He flew into dark lanes, and saw the white faces of starving children looking out listlessly at the black streets. Under the archway of a bridge two little boys were lying in one another's arms to try and keep themselves warm. "How hungry we are!" they said. “You must not lie here," shouted the Watchman, and they wandered out into the rain.

Related Characters: The Happy Prince (speaker), The Swallow
Related Symbols: Children
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

But at last he knew that he was going to die. He had just strength to fly up to the Prince's shoulder once more. “Good-bye, dear Prince!" he murmured, "will you let me kiss your hand?" "l am glad that you are going to Egypt at last, little Swallow," said the Prince, “You have stayed too long here; but

you must kiss me on the lips, for I love you."

Related Characters: The Happy Prince (speaker), The Swallow (speaker)
Related Symbols: Egypt
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two.

Related Characters: The Happy Prince
Related Symbols: The Lead Heart
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Early the next morning the Mayor was walking in the square below in company with the Town Councillors. As they passed the column he looked up at the statue: "Dear me! how shabby the Happy Prince looks!" he said. "How shabby indeed!" cried the Town Councillors, who always agreed with the Mayor; and they went up to look at it.

Related Characters: The Mayor (speaker), The Town Councillors (speaker), The Happy Prince
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince. "As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful," said the Art Professor at the University.

Related Characters: The Happy Prince
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

"What a strange thing!" said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry. "This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away." So they threw it on a dust-heap where the dead Swallow was also lying. "Bring me the two most precious things in the city," said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird. "You have rightly chosen," said God, "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."

Related Characters: God (speaker), The Happy Prince, The Swallow
Related Symbols: The Lead Heart
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Happy Prince LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Happy Prince PDF

The Happy Prince Character Timeline in The Happy Prince

The timeline below shows where the character The Happy Prince appears in The Happy Prince. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Happy Prince
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Poverty, Inequality, and Greed Theme Icon
The gilded statue of the Happy Prince stands on a pedestal overlooking a town. Covered in gold leaf with sapphires for eyes... (full context)
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Compassion Theme Icon
...travels, the Swallow left alone, but ended up stopping under the statue of the Happy Prince to rest. (full context)
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Compassion Theme Icon
Poverty, Inequality, and Greed Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...he takes to be rainfall on a clear night, the Swallow realizes that the Happy Prince has been crying. They introduce themselves, and the Happy Prince describes his childhood in a... (full context)
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Compassion Theme Icon
Poverty, Inequality, and Greed Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...his good deed. He still intends to go to Egypt and describes to the Happy Prince what marvels await him there, from the river-horses to the God Memnon on his great... (full context)
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Compassion Theme Icon
Poverty, Inequality, and Greed Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
The Swallow returns once more to bid farewell to the Happy Prince, who pleads with him to deliver his other sapphire eye to a little match-girl who... (full context)
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Compassion Theme Icon
Poverty, Inequality, and Greed Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
The Swallow sits on the Prince’s shoulder and recounts tales of Egypt and faraway lands. He tells of the red ibises... (full context)
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Compassion Theme Icon
Poverty, Inequality, and Greed Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...bridge while a passing Watchman tries to clear them out. Upon hearing these tales, the Prince wishes to distribute the fine gold leaf gilding him, to alleviate some of this misery.... (full context)
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Compassion Theme Icon
...too cold. Knowing that only limited time remains to him, he asks to kiss the Prince’s hand. Instead, the Prince says, “you must kiss me on the lips, for I love... (full context)
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Compassion Theme Icon
Poverty, Inequality, and Greed Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...calling the statue “little better than a beggar,” and they decide to have the Happy Prince melted down and recast into a new statue (though they fight as to whom he... (full context)
Beauty and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Compassion Theme Icon
Poverty, Inequality, and Greed Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...heart and the dead bird, and God agrees that he had rightly chosen. The Happy Prince and the Swallow would be rewarded eternally in Paradise for their compassion and sacrifice. (full context)