Narrative “The Happy Prince” written by Oscar Wilde. In

                 Narrative Analysis of Oscar wilde’s Short Story

                                    “The Happy Prince”

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                                         Uzma Shaheen

                                                       MPhil English

                                                       University of Sargodha




          This paper discusses the basic elements of a narrative by analysing a short story “The Happy Prince” written by Oscar Wilde.  In narrative analysis the main focus will be on art of characterization, plot construction, narrative pattern of story, point of view and speech and thought presentation to make this short story more comprehend and understandable for its readers. Special observation will be made by representing some dialogues from the source text “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde. The data has been obtained by frequent reading that has helped the researcher as a useful instrument in analysing the source text. The aim to conduct this research is to illustrate narratology, narrative patterns and its application on literary text for its readers so that they can better interpret any narrative piece of writing.

Keywords:  narration, narrative patterns, narratology, focalization, short story.



Narrative is an art of representing stories and events. A story can be in written form or spoken. According to, Narrative is the process or technique of narrating. More precisely one can say any account of connected events, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words or in a sequence of pictures, is called narrative.

Study of a narrative and its form is called narratology. It is an emerging term of 21st century and a branch of structuralism. So the main focus of narratologists is on narrative structures. Many national and International scholars are applying narratology to interpret all specific ingredients of a narrative and its form and structure. For instance Martelli, A (2011) has discussed two important aspects of narratology ,  possible-world theory and speech and thought presentation, in her paper by analysing a short story “Medusa’s Ankles”. Another scholar , Dromnes, T. (2010) analysed a short story in his thesis named as ” A narratological and didactic analysis of Sharman Alexie’s  The Long Range and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”. His aim is to simplify the theories of narratology to make them more accessible by analysing it in the classroom.  Then Cahir (2009) in her essay ” Narratological Parallels in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now” has discussed the narrative aspects very effectively.

Here in this paper ” A Narrative Analysis of Oscar Wilde’s Short Story The Happy Prince” people will get a deep understanding of  basic narrative elements, forms and structure of a short story and its interpretation according to narratology. The data has been obtained through frequent reading that helps the researcher as an instrument analyse the proposed text. The researcher will apply the processes introduced by Vladimir Prop (1928) and  Gerard Genette(1930) related to narrative analysis. The procedures and steps that are used in this research work are: 1. Data Collection and provision (2) Classification of Data (3)

Analysis of Data and (4) Data Presentation.

Narrative and Narratology:

   Any account of connected events, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words or in a sequence of pictures, is called narrative. There is a slight difference between narrative, story and plot. According to Barry, P. (2002) “The ‘story’ is the actual sequence of events as they happen, whereas the ‘plot’ is those events as they are edited , ordered, packaged, and presented in what we recognise as a narrative”.

” Narratives are based on cause and effect relationships that are applied to sequence of events”. ( Fludernik, M. 2009)

About narrative Toolan (2001) says that,

“A narrative is perceived sequence of non-randomly connected events, typically involving, as the experience agonist, humans or quasi-humans, or other sentient beings, from whose experience we human can ‘learn'”. (Toolan, M. 2001)

The idea brings out three chief features,

(i)                 Sequenced and interrelated events

(ii)               forgrounded individuals

(iii)             crisis to resolution progression

As our concern is to study narratology to analyse a short story so  there are very lucid and clean images of the structure and framework of narratives in his book, Narrative: A Critical Linguistic Introduction.

“The poetic of narrative, as we might call it, both attampts to understand the components of narrative and analyses how particular narratives achieve their effects”. (Culler, J. 1997)

Narratology, even though a sub branch of structuralism, still has achieved certain independence. In narratology one may define the basic mechanisms and procedures that are common in acts of story telling.

So “Narratology is the ensemble of theories of narratives, narrative texts, images, spectacles ,events; cultural artifacts that ‘tell’ a story. Such a theory helps to understand, analyse, and evaluate narratives.” (Bal, M. 1997)


Short Story:

According to Bal(1997) “a fabula story is a series of logically and chronologically,  related events that are caused or experienced by actors”. ( Toolan, M. 2001)

According to Bal, (1997) there are several processes involve in arranging a story;

(i)                 Sequence of events

(ii)               determined time

(iii)             distinctive traits of characters

(iv)      the location where events take place

(v)     Other relationships (symbolic, allusive , traditional, etc.) may exist among various elements.

(vi) point of view and focalization

Then there is a difference between an ordinary story and a narrative text.

“A fabula that has been ordered in a story is still not a text.  A narrative text is a story that is ‘told’, conveyed to recipient, and this telling requires a medium ; that is, it is converted into signs”. (Bal, M. 1997)

So plot has its concern with well knitted events, story is a sequence of events whereas a narrative is a technique to narrate and narratology is a term through which we analyse form and structure of a narrative.

Vladimir Prop:

The very important narratologist, whose main concern was with events rather than characters in a narrative. He was a “Russian Formalist” critic who worked on Russian folk tales. He identified situations and recurrent structures in such tales. He has published his findings in his book “The Morphology of Folktales”(1928). The book is about the structures and plot formation of folk tales. He has described 31 functions to start or begin a story in different situations, some are given below;

(i)                 One of the members of family absents himself from home.

(ii)               The hero leaves home.

(iii)             The hero and villain join in direct combat.

(iv)             The hero is branded.

(v)               The villain is defeated

(vi)             The hero returns.

He has described seven ‘spheres of action’ to generate a plot. Such as

(i)                 The villain

(ii)               The donar ( provider) 

(iii)             The helper

(iv)             The princess and her father

(v)               The dispatcher

(vi)             The hero

(vii)           The false hero

A plot can be generated effectively by applying these seven spheres of actions and 31 functions (necessarily not all) in a narrative.

Gerard Genette:

 A prominent narratologist, whose concern is with the process of telling story itself. His focus is not only story itself but also how it is told. He has discussed six particular areas to form or analyse any structure, in his book, “Narrative Discourse” (1930).

(i) Narrative Mode >> Mimetic or Diegetic

(ii) Focalization >>      Internal , External or Zero

(iii) Authorial Persona >> Overt or Covert

(iv)Control of time >> Analeptic, Prolepsis or chronological

(v)  Packaging and frames >> Primary or Secondary

(vi)Speech Thought Presentation >> DS, IS, FDS, FIS, NRSA

Research Objectives:

(i)                 To examine the text of short story ” The Happy Prince”.

(ii)               To interpret the story with the spectacles of narratology and observe narrative forms and structures.    

Research Questions:

(i)         What are the basic elements involve in a short story?

(ii)        How narratology helps us in analysing narrative form and structure?

Research Methodology:

Research Data:

 This work is based on qualitative descriptive research. The main subject in this

 Study is a short story by Oscar Wilde “The Happy Prince”.

Research Framework:

 The data has been obtained through frequent reading that helps the researcher as an instrument in the analysis of a short narrative. The procedures and steps that are involved in this research work are : 1. Data Collection and provision (2) Classification of Data (3)Analysis of Data and (4) Data Presentation . The text has been analysed in the light of  narratology.

Text Analysis:

According to Vladimir Prop (1928) the roles are more important than characters.  He reflects the subordination of characters to action. Here the character of Prince is playing the role of “the Hero” and little swallow is playing a role of “the helper”.  When the prince was a prince and the swallow was a little bird they were alone and did get nothing but voidances in their life but when they were transformed into “the hero” and “the helper” they became precious in the eyes of God and Heavenly creature.  “Bring me the two most precious things in the city”, said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird”.

According to Gerard Genette ( 1930) the process of telling story is more important.

The story opened with the description of the statue of the Happy Prince and the speaker is omniscient. The little swallow is Heterodigetic or internal focalizer in the story. He besides his personal experience describes other characters as well. The Happy Prince is also internal focalizer as he also feels the sufferings and miseries of others. The story is gliding between two modes “mimetic”(slow telling) and “Diegetic” ( summarizing way). The personal story of both the characters is presented in a diegetic mode while role playing is presented in a mimetic way. Authorial persona is covert, non intrusive and unnamed.  “High above the city, on the tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he has two bright sapphires, and a large ruby glowed on his sword-hilt”.


 Beside the main story of The Happy Prince and the little Swallow , the sub story of the life of little Swallow is also developing. In the first part of main story the Happy prince is narrator who is telling his story and little Swallow is narratee who is listening the story of happy Prince. The story started “exposition” with the introduction of characters ” high above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince” and ” on night there flew over the city a little Swallow”.  The conflict started when the Happy Prince was watching the miseries of the people and felt helpless and the little swallow, who was deceived by Reed, cried and stayed at night with the statue. The action aroused when both has shared their stories with each other and promised to help. “it is very cold here , but I will stay with you one night, and be your messenger”.  The story leads towards climax when the little Swallow became a helper and tried to sort out the miseries of the people, according to the wish of the Happy Prince. The action leads towards the resolution when the Happy Prince became a “poor Prince” and divided all his jewels into needy.Both the characters meet their death at the end. “It is not the Egypt that I am going; I am going to the House of Death. Death is the brother of sleep, is he not?”. The story ended with the hope and satisfaction for the readers. God has rewarded them “you have rightly chosen for my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me”.


There are round about ten characters , two major and eight minor, in the story.

 1- the happy prince ( the main hero)

2-the little swallow   ( the Bird, Helper, the second hero)

3-town mayor

4-town councillor

5-the seamstress lady

6-the play writer

7-the match girl 

8-the Reed

9- God

10- the angels

The Happy Prince and the little Swallow both are playing the role of protagonists in the story. There is no villain or antagonist but miseries and sufferings of people.

Setting and Atmosphere:

The weather and atmosphere is very cold and dark from the start of the story till end. The words like ‘cold’ and ‘night’ are used severely in the story. ” then the snow came, and after snow came the frost”.  So weather is indicating the mood or tone of the story.


Oscar Wilde has narrated this story “the Happy Prince” in a very unique way.

“High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt. He was very much admired indeed.
He is as beautiful as a weathercock,” remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; “only not quite so useful,” he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not”.

We can find many similes and metaphors in this story. These expressions are very unique and interesting. This story was written more than a hundred years ago. Even the style of this story is a little bit old-fashioned, but still some unique ideas are expressed here. In above passage, the Happy Prince is described as follows: “He is as beautiful as a weathercock.” He is expressing the splendour of the statue Happy Prince.

 “Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, said the Prince,”will you not stay with me for one night, and be my messenger? The boy is so thirsty, and the mother so sad.”

Wilde used such expressions repeatedly to emphasize the depending friendship and love between the Happy Prince and the Swallow. The Prince wanted to help poor people by giving them jewels that were shining on his sword and gold leaves that covered his body but he could not move as he was not a living being but a statue, so he had to ask a favour of the Swallow who could move and was alive. The Prince’s affectionate words, “Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow —” have a great affect on the heart of little Swallow and those words soften the stiff and selfish heart of the Swallow. These words and tones sound affectionate to us and make us happy in the same way.

The main element of figurative language wilde has used in his short story is;

Simile, there are some examples of sentences, in which simile has been used by the writer, given below;

‘ as beautiful as a weathercock’ ,
‘hard like withered leaves’,
‘mystery so great as misery’,
‘as black as ebony’ ,
‘lips are red as pomegranate’, and
‘eyes like green beryl’s’.

By using it , he has made his style more effective and unique.

Speech and Thought Presentation:

There are five modes of speech and thought presentation;

(i)                 Direct Speech   D.S

(ii)               Indirect speech    I.S

(iii)             Free direct Speech   F.D.S

(iv)             Free Indirect Speech  F.I.S

(v)               Narrative Report of Speech Act NRSA

And five modes of thought presentation;

(i)                 Direct Thought   D.T

(ii)               Indirect Thought    I.T

(iii)             Free direct Thought   F.D.T

(iv)             Free Indirect Thought  F.I.T

(v)               Narrative Report of Thought Act NRTA

Some sentences are analysed in the story “The Happy Prince” that reflect Speech Thought Presentation.

(i) She said, “She has no money”.     Direct Speech

(ii) I admit that she is domestic.          Indirect Speech

(iii) “She has no conversation”, he said. Free Direct Speech

(iv) The Reed used to like the rain. Or, He prepared to go to sleep. F.I.S

(v)Ah! But we have in our dreams.  NRSA

(vi) I am afraid that she is a coquette. I.T

(vii) ” when I was alive of had a human heart” answered the statue. FDT

(viii) I did not know what tears were.   F.I.T

(ix) The king is there himself in his painted coffin. NRTA

(x) It is ridiculous attachment. F.I.T

Concluding Remarks:

  The aim of the present analysis is to show how narratology can be used for the analysis of any narrative text/short story and how it contributes in the structure and form of a narrative text. Observation has been made to make the readers more aware of the facts related to the basic elements of a short story. 


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