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The Happy Prince Summary

The Happy Prince Summary
Coming up next: The Happy Prince: Themes & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Happy in Service
  • 0:31 The Statue and the Swallow
  • 1:10 Meeting the Prince
  • 1:46 Running Errands
  • 2:28 Death and Reward
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

The source of happiness comes not from worldly possessions, but from helping others. In this lesson, you'll learn more about 'The Happy Prince' and his helpful friend, the Swallow.

Happy in Service

Have you ever heard someone say, 'It's better to give than receive?' They could have been referring to any number of things: giving a gift, helping someone at work, or volunteering for a worthy cause.

The main character in our short story, The Happy Prince written by Oscar Wilde, sure thought so. He was willing to give up his greatest possessions for the benefit of people who were hurting and less fortunate.

Let's take a closer look at this tale involving a princely statue and a friendly swallow.

The Statue and the Swallow

When our short tale opens, we're introduced to the Happy Prince, an ornate statue situated high on a pole overlooking the city. He boasts a sword with a ruby on its handle, sapphires for eyes, and delicate leaves of gold covering his entire body. The townspeople are proud of the statue and admire the warmth and beauty that it gives off.

It's springtime in the prince's city, and a group of swallows has moved from one location and are en route to Egypt, leaving behind one of their own. This particular swallow, the second protagonist, has fallen in love with a local Reed bird. They spend all spring and summer together, but their love is short-lived, and the brokenhearted swallow starts making plans to rejoin his friends.

Meeting the Prince

After a solid day of flying, the swallow is exhausted and begins to look for a place to rest. He happens upon the prince and decides to make his bed there for the night under the shelter of the statue. Just as he's settling down, a drop of water falls on him. The swallow is confused; there's not a cloud in the sky! It's then that he looks up and realizes the eyes of the Happy Prince are filled with tears.

The swallow is confused. How can the 'Happy Prince' be sad? The prince tells the bird that he was not acquainted with tears when he was alive because everything around him was wonderful. Now that he is up high above the city, he can see the sadness and troubles of the people and his heart is sad.

Running Errands

It is then that the prince asks the swallow to take care of an errand for him. The prince has seen a poor seamstress with an ill son who can afford nothing to alleviate his pain. He urges the swallow to take the ruby from his sword and deliver it to the woman. The swallow agrees, delivers the ruby and decides to stay with the prince for another night. His good deed is keeping him warm.

The next day, the swallow is ready to leave, but the prince asks him to stay. There's another hopeless person who needs his help. This time it's a hungry young man. The prince tells the swallow to pluck out one of his sapphire eyes and take it to the man. The following night, he asks the swallow to pluck out his remaining eye and deliver it to a poor girl trying to sell matches on the street. The swallow performs both tasks as asked.

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