The Happy Prince: Themes & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Judging on Appearance
  • 0:58 Being Judgmental
  • 1:43 Sacrifice
  • 2:15 Love & Compassion
  • 3:07 Disparity Between…
  • 4:01 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.

Love, compassion and sacrifice are all a part of the themes of Oscar Wilde's 'The Happy Prince.' In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at the lessons this story has to teach us about interacting with others.

Judging on Appearance

Time to confess: Have you ever judged someone by their appearance? Maybe they were dressed in the finest clothing, with an expensive watch or handbag to match. You looked at them and thought, ''They've got it all together.'' Or, maybe it was the opposite: You saw someone out in dirty sweatpants and scuffed-up shoes and figured they were destitute or somehow beneath you.

The idea of judging someone based on how they look is one of the central themes of Oscar Wilde's ''The Happy Prince.'' Wilde's writing tells the story of a majestic prince that overlooks the city, adorned in gold leaf and jewels such as sapphires and rubies. Yet, despite his wealth, he's not happy. He is saddened by the poverty he sees from his perch atop the city. He sets out to rid himself of his wealth to help the people below him, but once he has sacrificed everything, he's no longer deemed beautiful by the townspeople.

Let's take a closer look at this theme and some other potential ideas in ''The Happy Prince.''

Being Judgmental

We've touched briefly on one potential theme of this story by Oscar Wilde, but let's examine it a bit further and dive into some other possibilities that are represented in this work. Have you ever heard the saying, ''Don't judge a book by its cover?'' That's exactly what the townspeople do when they realize that the Happy Prince statute is looking depleted. The Happy Prince has given of his beauty and possession - his gold leaf covering, sapphire eyes and ruby from his sword - to benefit the impoverished people he's witnessed below. Instead of being grateful for his care and compassion, the townspeople judge the prince by his outward appearance. They choose to pull the statue down and melt its 'ugliness' away.

The takeaway from this theme is not to judge people based on their outward appearance. They may have a heart of gold inside.


When you give all you have for the benefit of others, that's sacrifice. We can see the sacrificial giving of both the Happy Prince and the swallow in this story. The prince has gifted his gold covering and even his eyes for the benefits of the poor people he's watched from above, while the swallow has sacrificed his travel plans and, ultimately, his life, for his new mission alongside the prince.

In the end, their sacrifices are rewarded as they are carried away to Heaven by angels who deem them to be ''the two most precious things in the city.''

Love and Compassion

During his life, the prince lived in a place ''where sorrow is not allowed to enter.'' Now, on his perch above the city, he can see all the heartaches of the people in the town and is compelled to help them. He gives everything he has to give, including his sight, to show his love and compassion for the people who need it most.

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