Analysis of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant

This fairy tale by Oscar Wilde was published in 1888 in a volume called The Happy Prince and Other Tales. After being away on a trip, a giant returns to his home only to find that children are playing in his yard and garden. He drives them from the garden and posts notices warning trespassers that they will be prosecuted. The absence of the children causes the garden to fall into a wintry state while the rest of the world experiences all the seasons in their normal order. The seasons refuse to come to the giant’s garden because he is too selfish. Eventually the children make their way back to the garden, spring returns, and the giant enjoys the children’s company. He has a special friendship with the smallest boy and helps him into the bough of a tree since the boy cannot reach it alone. One day the small boy stops coming to the garden. The giant grows old and has not seen the boy for years, so he is surprised one day in winter when he sees the boy outside. The boy has nail prints in his hands and feet, which prompts the giant to offer to kill the person who hurt the boy, but the boy tells the giant that “these are the wounds of love” and says he will take the giant with him to his garden called Paradise. Later the Giant is found dead lying under the tree, “all covered with white blossoms” (114).

The story shows the nature of real love and compassion first through the softening of the heart of the giant and later through the appearance of the boy as a Christlike figure. The link between nature following its seasonal course and the children’s happiness indicates that it is more natural to be happy and congenial than isolated and selfish. Critics of the story have also pointed out that the relationship between the giant and the small boy gestures toward the possibility of so-called homosocial bonds between men. In the story the boy is so touched by the giant’s conversion to generosity that he hugs and kisses him. The boy’s gesture is catalyst for the return of the other children, who do not believe in the giant’s change of heart until they see the giant helping the smallest boy into the tree and the boy embracing him. This embrace is proof that the giant is no longer wicked. The relationship with the boy remains important for the giant even after years pass and he grows too old to play with the children. The boy as savior of the adult at the end of the story illustrates the role a youth can play in the mind and heart of a man. Beauty, youth, and sincere affection attract and ultimately save the giant in both the Christian sense and a personal sense. The story offers readers a sad but beautiful ending as the giant dies but also will join the boy in heaven. The white blossoms that cover the giant’s body at the end link him both with the tree the boy sat in and with the boy’s purity.

Kingston, Angela. “Homoeroticism and the Child in Wilde’s Fairy Tales,” Wildean: The Journal of the Oscar Wilde Society 19 (July 2001): 43–53.
Wilde, Oscar. Complete Shorter Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization. New York: Routledge, 1983.

Categories: British Literature, Literature, Short Story

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