Overcoming Selfishness & Earning Spiritual Bliss

Our class assignment for Tuesday, February 7 was to read The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince as well as the introduction to the stories that talks about Oscar Wilde and the themes in his fairy tales. These assigned readings came out of The Classic Fairy Tales.

Firstly, before we could start discussing these stories, we had a presentation by two students. Their selected film was Alice in Wonderland. It was based off a book published by Charles Dodgson. He initially told the tale orally to entertain the daughters of Henry Liddell. Liddell’s middle daughter named Alice asked Dodgson to write down the story for her, and so he did. The story is about a girl who follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole and encounters a realm with strange creatures. She goes through a series of strange journeys and wakes up to realize she was only dreaming. The book was wildly popular; several movies, live adaptations, songs, albums, parodies, and comic book adaptations have been created from it. Our class saw the 1951 movie trailer. The unique thing about Alice from other heroines is that she did not need a romantic figure or a traveler by her side – she experienced her adventure on her own. She is also a dynamic character who changes throughout the story and undergoes self-development as she encounters the strange, maniacal creatures who trigger her insecurities. She is the first fairy tale protagonist who goes into a different world, hence the popularity of the book. There are no obvious morals in the book or film unlike other fairy tales.

After this brief presentation, we began our discussion. We wrote down what we thought the morals of The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince were on sticky notes. Then, we collectively shared our opinions. The class agreed that The Selfish Giant taught children to not be selfish and that sharing things brings one happiness. This is reflected in the book when the giant shows compassion to a little boy who is crying because he cannot climb a tree in the giant’s garden. The giant helps him up and lets the other children play in his garden as well, bringing an end to the winter frost that was his punishment for keeping it to himself. The boy was thought to be the giant’s salvation, for he returned at the end of the story in the same form and brought good news to the giant (he invites him to come to Paradise as a reward for letting him play in the garden years ago), who dies under the same tree he helped the boy climb. This makes the boy almost an angelic kind of figure.

The Happy Prince was similar to the last story in that sharing is definitely caring once again, and also there is a religious reward at the end. The prince and the swallow are promised a place in Paradise by God. Although the swallow is initially reluctant to help out every time the prince asks him to do a certain task, he carries out the good deed. He physically feels warm after he helps someone in need despite the bitter cold that slowly kills him throughout the story. The prince describes the warmth as the reward for his good deed. Another moral that could be taken from the story is that worldly fame is irrelevant. Although it is sad that the people of the down dispose of the prince’s statue after they realize it has been stripped down of its valuable contents, the fact that he and the swallow received a spot in Paradise makes this unfortunate ending of his and the swallow’s remains (they are burned into ash) tolerable. We also talked about how the prince and the swallow have deep love for each other. This is represented best when the people of the town try to burn his lead heart (which snapped into two when the swallow died) and they are baffled by the fact that the flame is unable to melt it down. The love between the swallow and the prince is connected to Oscar Wilde’s possible homosexuality, which is mentioned in The Classic Fairy Tales. However, Soudabeh said it is important to understand that stories are not always mirror images to an author’s personal life or issues.

The last topic we attempted covering in limited time was the challenge and the destiny for the protagonists in The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf, The Match Girl, and The Girl with the Red Shoes. For the girl in The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf, her biggest issue was overcoming her vanity and arrogance. She had to suffer in the Devil’s lair for several years, and when she was finally able to escape, she had to repay every crumb of the loaf she stepped on. It is assumed that her ending was a good one. The girl in The Match Girl had the struggle of not being able to bring any money home to her father and also freezing to death. Her destiny was a particularly sweet one since she reunited with her dead grandmother, who is the only person who was ever nice to her. The challenge for the girl in The Girl with the Red Shoes was that she had no concern for social norms and selfishly did whatever she wanted. Her destiny was to end up being allowed into the church again because she grieved about her misconduct and as a result was no longer haunted by her eerie dancing red shoes.

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