Hannah’s Response to Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince”

This short story follows a swallow, who is about to begin his migration to Egypt, when he is interrupted by the statue of the happy prince, standing in the center of the town. The swallow spends the entire story helping the prince give away parts of himself in order to help the poor and starving people of his town. The story ends with both the swallow and the happy prince dying and being brought to heaven by one of God’s angels. This story is told from the perspective of a privileged person and therefore gives an interesting light on the subject of disability. The Happy Prince gives us an insight on how people without disabilities see people who have a disability as someone that they can fix.

With a first reading of this short story you see a privileged prince, who has lived a life so wonderful that he has never known sadness, giving everything he has left to make the people of his town happy. He gives until he has nothing left and is melted down and thrown away. Upon first glance this can be seen as a wholesome story, one about giving and making the lives of people less fortunate than you better. When reading the story through the lens of disabilities studies this story takes a slight darker turn. The story has to be read as the prince being a nondisabled person and all of the poor people being the disabled characters. 

The prince turns into a nondisabled person who has never seen a person with a disability before. He has lived his whole life assuming that everyone was like him and that he was “normal”. When he dies and gets turned into a statue he sees, for the first time, what life is really like. There are people with disabilities everywhere in this world, whether they be visible or invisible. The prince has never seen this before and has to take in this information and deal with the reality of life. 

The conclusion that he ends up coming to is that he has to fix these people. In the story he gives the poor people money, and that is a nice thing to do in real life, but when viewing this story through a disabilities studies standpoint what you see is that the prince is in fact trying to cure the disability. Instead of ever leaving his castle when he was alive, and meeting these people and trying to make his whole kingdom better, he tries to end the problem altogether. He takes on the kill or cure mentality. The poor people are depressing to him, so he wants to get rid of them by making them richer. There is obviously a problem with the town as a whole. 

The better solution would have been to see the issue of the town as a whole and try to create a better living situation for the people living there long term. The money will run out, but the corrupt power that is running the town is not going anywhere. It is important for good people to try and find long term solutions to the social problems that people with disabilities face instead of trying to hide the problem behind gold trimmed curtains.

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