The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde: Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:03 The Story
  • 1:51 Themes
  • 2:32 Nature Imagery
  • 2:53 Christian Interpretation
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

Oscar Wilde's short story 'The Selfish Giant' has been enjoyed by generations of children as a fable about selfishness and redemption. This lesson will look at some of the hidden meanings beneath the children's story.

The Story

''The Selfish Giant'' is one of five stories contained in The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde. First published in May 1888, generations of children have enjoyed the story of the giant who learned to share his garden with others.

As the tale goes, a selfish giant had a beautiful garden full of green grass, trees, and flowers. For seven years, as the giant visited a friend, the village children enjoyed playing in the garden. But when the giant returned, he sent the children away and kept the garden closed up. As a result, all the seasons except winter refused to grace the giant's garden, and so only winter weather prevailed.

One day, the giant hears a bird singing: a sign of spring's return. He soon finds that spring has returned because the children have been sneaking in and reclaiming the garden for their gathering place. However, there is one small boy blinded by his own tears of frustration because he cannot climb up into a tall tree. Unlike the other children, the little fellow hugs and kisses the giant for helping him into the tree. Now spring prevails everywhere.

Much to the giant's sadness, the one small fellow who kissed him never shows up again. But the giant grows old in the presence of the happy children sharing his garden space.

One day, when the giant is nearing the end of his days, the small child appears again. The giant is concerned when he sees that the boy has nail wounds on his hands and feet. But the boy tells him not to be upset, because they are wounds of love. Moreover, the boy has come to take the giant to Paradise, or heaven. Shortly afterwards, the happy giant dies, and his body is found lying under the tree, covered in blossoms.


Without having any background information about either the author or Christian symbolism, the reader (or young listener) tends to see this tale as a lovely story of friendship and forgiveness. The children fear the giant only until they realize that he is not bad, only misguided. Once the giant sees that sharing and friendship are pleasant and rewarding, he chooses to share, inspired by the loving small child in the tree. The giant dies more fulfilled because of the many years he watched the children play in his garden. Perhaps the message is intended to be that everyone can change and learn life's lessons, and/or that everyone has something to share and to give to others around them.

Nature Imagery

The elements of nature, including the four seasons, are personified in this tale. At first, winter and the cold harsh elements are portrayed as negative, that are the opposite of the beautiful flowers and greenery of spring. Later, the giant comes to see winter as a period of inactivity, or perhaps renewal, before the spring returns.

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