The Devoted Friend: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 A Wilde Children's Tale
  • 0:50 ~'The Devoted Friend~'
  • 2:19 Unclear Morals
  • 3:01 A Surprising End
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Did you know Oscar Wilde wrote children's stories? In this lesson, we'll take a look at one of them, titled 'The Devoted Friend.' The lesson includes a summary and analysis of the story.

A Wilde Children's Tale

Have you ever read a story where animals could talk or people could flap their arms and fly? When you read a story with fantastical elements, you use what is called a suspension of disbelief. This means you ignore the fact that the story couldn't happen in real life and accept that, in the story, these things are possible. One genre where you often need suspension of disbelief is children's stories, and the children's stories of Oscar Wilde are certainly no exception.

Take, for example, Wilde's story called 'The Devoted Friend.' It is a story within a story where a linnet, which is a type of bird, tells a tale to a water rat. A duck also joins the conversation at the very beginning and end of the story. Since animals cannot talk, this of course requires suspension of disbelief.

'The Devoted Friend'

The story begins with the linnet and the rat discussing what the rat thinks a devoted friend should be like. When the rat responds, 'I should expect my devoted friend to be devoted to me, of course,' and that he does not expect to give anything in return, the bird tells him a story.

In the story a gardener named Hans grows beautiful flowers and fruits and does fairly well with them, though the seasonal nature of his work means winters are hard. Hans has a friend, a rich miller named Hugh. Hugh likes to come by and take things out of Hans' garden, telling Hans, 'Real friends should have everything in common.' Yet Hugh never gives anything to Hans in return. He never even goes to see Hans in the winter, when Hans is starving and forced to sell his buttons and wheelbarrow for food.

After winter, when Hans' flowers are blooming, Hugh visits Hans with a basket to get flowers. Upon hearing Hans' story, Hugh promises to give Hans his wheelbarrow, which is falling apart and not even usable. In return for this 'gift,' Hugh guilts Hans into working for him day in and day out, selling his flour, mending his roof, and even going to get the doctor for Hugh's sick son. On the way back from this last errand, Hans gets lost and dies. Hugh gives himself a prominent place at Hans' funeral, promising never to give anything away again, since the wheelbarrow (which he never gave to Hans) was so much trouble.

The rat does not see a point in this story, and when the bird tells him it has a moral, the rat leaves in a huff, commenting that if he had known it had a moral, he 'certainly would not have listened.'

Unclear Morals

An interesting aspect of this story becomes clear when you look at it through the lens of a traditional story with a moral, or lesson. Traditional moral stories, such as Aesop's fables, make the moral very clear and usually state it directly at the end. Wilde's story builds as though it is going to do this, and then it simply never does. In fact, the ending of the story comes across more as a commentary against stories with morals.

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