The Selfish Giant - Analysis


The Selfish Giant is a short story written by Oscar Wilde involving a giant who does not allow children to play in his garden. The major connection to discovery revolves around the shift in the Giant’s attitude as he relies the folly of his ways. Like much of Wilde’s works, the characterisation and atmosphere of the story heavily leans on aesthetic considerations with goodness represented in positive images and badness in negative. A major theme to look out for and keep in mind is contrast, as contrast is the device that best creates Wilde’s message.

The Selfish Giant is a short story written by Oscar Wilde involving a giant who does not allow children to play in his garden. The major connection to discovery revolves around the shift in the Giant’s attitude as he relies the folly of his ways. Like much of Wilde’s works, the characterisation and atmosphere of the story heavily leans on aesthetic considerations with goodness represented in positive images and badness in negative. A major theme to look out for and keep in mind is contrast, as contrast is the device that best creates Wilde’s message.

A Children’s Story

The Selfish Giant first appeared in a collection of tales for children and thus shares many similarities and conventions of children’s narratives. The major aspect is the coda: Wilde’s story has a clear message of selflessness and virtue that presents itself throughout. The ending too reinforces this. When analysing the text it is important to keep this in mind. Wilde not only explores moral discoveries within his characters, but since it’s a text for children, it is meant to guide the readers towards these discoveries for themselves. The audience is meant to walk away having grasped and internalised the moral of the story, and this is reinforced by the authoritative voice of a third person, omniscient narrator.

The other impact of it being a children’s story is it is meant to be somewhat rhetorical. This connects with the earlier mention of Wilde’s emphasis on aesthetics. Children are not going to grasp abstract reasoning or arguments in favour of selflessness, and thus the case must be made by associating positivity and good consequences with virtue and negative consequences with vice. This should be kept in mind, as it is a further example of how Wilde positions his audience to see and accept his conclusion.

  1. While discovery is a big theme within the text, Wilde is also concerned with this discovery being shared by the reader too. How does Wilde’s language influence our reading of the text, and do we ourselves make any discoveries?

Click here to download the full analysis.