The story of ‘The Happy Prince’ is the not a typical depiction of Wilde’s subtle humor and wit rather in this story Oscar Wilde has let the reality play with his witty mannerism of diction. The story is about a statue of a prince who was famous for his happiness when he was alive but after his death his happiness earned him a lofty monument which elevated his opulence to the heights from where he could encounter the reality of suffering mankind with an equal magnitude.
The statue of the prince is accompanied by a swallow that seems to be a whimsical addition in the beginning of the story but later this migratory bird lends its wings to the fancy of the prince to meet the limits of reality, pain and suffering. The theme of the story ironically depicts the socio-economic scenario of the late Victorian era and also sermonize the spiritual elevation through the power of love and sacrifice.
Wilde criticizes the economic instability to the extent that it had converted the “misery” of a man into a “mystery” which could be solved through nothing but sacrifices made by the higher order of the social circle. The conversion of the happy prince into a statue symbolizes the ignorance of the emperors or the rulers of a state about their social responsibilities and by the time they realize of or get acquainted to the reality, it is too late and they are handicapped; as the statue of the Happy Prince says to the swallow, “My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness.
So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep. ” Oscar Wilde extends the boundaries of his theme to the spiritual transcendence which transforms the concept of happiness from temporal to spiritual. Thus the happy prince experiences three phases of existence to seek the light of the eternal happiness, which purifies the human soul deep enough to nullify the physical and temporal beauty.
The role of the swallow in the story signifies another type of transformation. The swallow is shown to be a romantic bird who believes in the physical love only but he too feels the warmth of the true love and happiness through the spirit of sacrifice. He drops the idea of migrating to Egypt for the physical warmth and prefers to enjoy the pleasures of the good acts and dying in the end leaving the broken leaden heart of the Happy Prince, which could never be melted to be recycled.