The Happy Prince


Wilde, Oscar


Short Story


Oscar Wilde—one of the most successful playwrights of his day as well as one of its most notorious and colorful celebrities—was born in 1854 in Dublin. His fairy tale "The Happy Prince" features a swallow who customarily winters in Egypt but who, one autumn, is delayed in his migration by a disappointing love affair with a slender reed. Finally on his way south after breaking off with his beloved, he shelters for the night under a beautiful statue that can cry; it is a golden prince crying because he wants to help the needy of the town. What will the swallow do, especially as the frosts grow colder and colder—stay and help the prince or move on to Egypt? The text compels us to ask what the ultimate costs and rewards of generosity might be. It also touches on why we become involved in giving in the first place—reasons which may not ever seem clear even to ourselves.

Full Text*

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The Happy Prince and Other Stories. Oscar Wilde. Elibron Classics Series. Adamant Media Corporation, 2006. pp. 3-11.




Giving and ReceivingImpact and OutcomesLove and CompassionMotives and ValuesPoverty and Need

Big Questions

How do we know what a gift achieves?How much should I give? What, if anything, might limit my giving?What does good giving require?Who should we give to and why?How do we identify desired outcomes? Who decides?How do we know the impact of our actions?What should our goals be? What is the best way to identify them?How does a person learn compassion?What prevents us from being compassionate?Do one’s motives for serving or giving matter? How?How should we respond to people and communities in need?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the Swallow stay with the Happy Prince? What keeps him from flying to Egypt?
  2. Why does the Happy Prince give so much of himself? What does he expect in return?
  3. How do the Swallow and the Happy Prince meet the needs of the people they give to?
  4. Why does the Swallow allow himself to die instead of leave for Egypt? Does his death accomplish anything? If so, what?
  5. How do we best balance the rewards and costs of generosity?
  6. For a gift to be meaningful, must the recipient know where it came from? Must the giver receive gratitude?
  7. If acts of generosity go unnoticed or even ignored, how then do we measure their impact?
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