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The Model Millionaire: Theme & Moral Values

The Model Millionaire: Theme & Moral Values
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  • 0:03 'The Model Millionaire'
  • 1:17 Themes
  • 3:16 Moral Values
  • 4:48 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.

Oscar Wilde has given us a lot to think about in 'The Model Millionaire.' In this lesson, we'll explore some of the themes in the story, as well as the moral values that guide several key characters.

''The Model Millionaire''

Appearances can be deceiving, can't they? We might spot someone who appears disheveled and dirty and presume they're homeless, when they've actually just come from helping rebuild someone's home that was damaged in a fire. Likewise, we may spy someone well-dressed heading into an expensive restaurant and decide that they must be wealthy when, in fact, they are a newspaper reporter heading to interview a new entrepreneur in town.

The characters in Oscar Wilde's short story ''The Model Millionaire'' experience their own issues with appearance. The story's central player, Hughie Erskine, believes a beggar-man to be poor and down on his luck, and gives him some money. As it turns out, the beggar-man is in fact one of Europe's wealthiest socialites who has commissioned an artist to paint his portrait wearing rags. The artist reminds Erskine that there is beauty in things that may not be immediately recognized as beautiful.

The story's focus on the ideas of the perception of class, beauty, wealth, and generosity makes for a tale with a strong lesson for readers: that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that wealth and generosity are not always inextricably linked. Let's take a closer look at these lessons through the themes of Wilde's story and the moral value of his main characters.

Themes

''The Model Millionaire'' is a study of different social classes and how we perceive them. Erskine and Trevor represent a middle-class lifestyle, spending time comfortably having a smoke and drinks, and working for a living, though Erskine has a bit of trouble staying attached to one job.

The beggar-man, though only the wealthy Baron Hausberg in disguise, is characterized by his rags and worn boots and his piteous expression. We immediately make assumptions about this man's financial state based on his description.

Erskine is mortified when he realizes he gave money to the Baron, who we find out is ''one of the richest men in Europe,'' as though generosity is something to be ashamed of in more well-to-do circles.

Beauty is another theme in ''The Model Millionaire.'' Though Erskine is described in the text as ''wonderfully good-looking,'' we get the impression that good looks are not enough to be considered beautiful. Erskine's beauty is found in his kind heart and generosity toward someone in need. The artist in the story, Trevor, also weighs in on the subject of beauty, explaining that we can find beauty everywhere if we just look for it.

When the story starts, we see an emphasis placed on wealth; after all, Erskine isn't lucky in that department and is not given permission to wed his love until he comes into some money. Despite that, he still proceeds to give when he sees someone in need. We also find Baron Hausberg, the millionaire model for the artist's portrait, to be a ''model millionaire'' in his attitude of giving of his own wealth freely.

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