At some point, we all learn the importance of sharing with others, and the Giant in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant’ learns just that lesson. Check out this lesson for more information about the Giant and other characters in Wilde’s fairytale.
Have you ever had something you loved so much you didn’t want to share it with anyone else? Sometimes it’s hard, but we all know how important it is to share. The importance of sharing is one of the lessons in Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale ‘The Selfish Giant.’ The story’s action mostly takes place in the Giant’s garden after he’s returned home from a seven-year visit to his friend, an ogre. On his return, the Giant is reluctant to share his prized garden with anyone else. But one little boy helps to change the Giant’s mind and the Giant learns how much more he enjoys his garden when others play in it with him.Though Wilde’s tale is short, there are several characters. In this lesson, we’ll concentrate on the two main characters, but we’ll also take a quick look at how Wilde makes nonhuman characters.
The main character is the Giant. At first, the Giant is what you might expect from a fairy tale giant: he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking, he’s rude, and he wants everything his way. As Wilde tells us, this is a ‘very selfish Giant.’ So selfish that he builds a wall around his beautiful garden, and hangs a sign on the wall that says ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ to keep the neighborhood children from playing there.Even at the beginning, though, there are signs the Giant maybe isn’t what he seems. He’s obviously handy since he was able to build the fence around his garden. But he also seems to appreciate beauty.
After all, he loves his garden because it’s beautiful. He’s also sad when the seasons don’t change and all he gets to see is snow instead of blooming flowers. This love of beautiful things is also clear when he gets excited about hearing a bird chirping, which sounds to him like ‘lovely music.
‘Once the Giant’s ‘heart melted,’ he goes through a total turn-around. He tells the children it’s ‘your garden now,’ and uses his strength to knock down the wall he built. He invites the children over anytime they want, and he even joins in playing in the garden with the children. Even when he gets too old to play himself, his favorite thing to do is watch children enjoy his garden.
The Little Boy
Most of the children in Wilde’s story aren’t singled out. Instead, they function as a single character, albeit one made up of many parts. But there is one child who’s a character all on his own, even though he’s never named.
When we first meet this little boy, he is very small, too small to reach even the lowest branches of a tree he wants to climb up and sit in. Even when the tree ‘bent its branches down as low as it could,’ the little boy still couldn’t grab one of them.Naturally, the little boy is crying at first, crying so hard, in fact, that he doesn’t actually see the Giant come up behind him to help. Because he doesn’t see the Giant, it’s hard to tell whether the little boy would be scared like the other children. But, we know the little boy isn’t too scared to give the Giant a thankful hug and kiss after his new friend picks him up and sits him on the tree’s branches.
The thing is, after the boy hugs and kisses the Giant, he disappears. The Giant wants to find his new friend, but none of the other children know him. They’ve actually never even seen the little boy before that day. And the little boy doesn’t come back with the other children to play in the afternoons.
So, was the little boy a ghost or a figment of the Giant’s imagination?We get some answers when the little boy finally comes back years later when the Giant is ‘very old and feeble.’ The boy is the same, except that ‘on the palms of the child’s hands were the prints of two nails, and the prints of two nails were on the little feet.’ The little boy explains these ‘are the wounds of Love.’ Turns out, this character isn’t a little boy at all. Instead, he appears to be representative of Jesus Christ.
This seems confirmed when he says the Giant will now play in ‘my garden, which is Paradise.’
Sometimes, a character isn’t human but is instead a thing to which an author gives human-like traits or abilities. This is called personification, or the attribution of human characteristics to animals, inanimate objects, or abstract notions. Personification is used in many literary works, especially those in the fairytale genre. Wilde uses this tactic in ‘The Selfish Giant’ with all four seasons, as well as other natural elements such as Snow, Frost, and North Wind.
For example, instead of saying it is snowing, Wilde tells us ‘Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak.’ Snow and Frost ‘invited’ North Wind, who comes ‘wrapped in furs, and he roared all day.’ This makes these elements seem alive.
In Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant,’ the Giant starts out too selfish and self-centered to share his beautiful garden.
But then one little boy who’s too small to reach the branches on a tree helps the Giant see how important sharing is, and the Giant plays in the garden with the children from then on. The Giant changes his ways and becomes loving and kind. Later, we see this little boy is actually Jesus Christ because he has nail marks on his hands and feet. Wilde also uses personification to make characters out of nonhuman things, such as Snow and Frost.