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Kathleen Fabie’s (revised) Formal Blog Post on Oscar Wilde’s “The Birthday of the Infanta”

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“When the truth dawned upon him, he gave a wild cry of despair and fell sobbing to the ground. So it was he who was misshapen and hunchbacked, foul to look at and grotesque. He himself was the monster, and it was at him that all the children had been laughing, and the little Princess who he had thought loved him — she too had been merely mocking at his ugliness and making merry over his twisted limbs” (261-262).

If — as Francis Bacon has suggested — knowledge is power, then the character known only as the “little dwarf” should be a powerful person indeed, for he has knowledge of the forest’s wonders. Yet knowledge also brings the power to destroy. In pursuit of his heart’s passion, the dwarf encounters knowledge he cannot bear. This passage reveals that it is not the knowledge that he is ugly that shatters him, but the realization that he is not loved.

To fully understand his heartbreak, it is necessary to understand the dwarf’s shock at his own reflection. He has led a happy existence. He has lived in the woods, delighting in the companionship of the birds and animals. In spite of apparent human contact, he has “complete unconsciousness of his own grotesque appearance” (252). He has a father, who thinks him “ugly and useless,” and is despicable enough to sell his son, yet this has not brought the dwarf unhappiness (252). He encounters the nobles who have purchased him for the court. Yet none of these human interactions have caused him to be unhappy. Perhaps the dwarf has seen these humans as the deviant bodies. They are giants, not like him. He is small, close to the earth and near the lizards and the flowers that he loves. Imagine the dwarf’s delight when he finally sees people that are just his size, just the right size, someone his own size at last. Imagine his happiness when he hears laughter and sees the children’s smiles and realizes that these are because of him; it is his walk, his bows and his laughter that are making the children laugh.

The dwarf has not been a miserable soul – he has been happy. Now he experiences kindred spirits, friendship, he falls in love. What a glorious place the world must be as he begins to search the castle for his princess. He has pictured them together in the forest, playing and dancing. In his imagination, he has already brought her “tiny glow-worms to be stars in the pale gold of her hair” (257). He will protect her. He loves her.

It is in the headiness of this passion that the dwarf makes his awful discovery, that he is not like the other little people he has seen. The figure he discovers “in the invisible wall of clear water,” is a “grotesque monster” (260, 261). Yet the realization of this hideous creature’s identity takes some time to come to light in the dwarf’s mind. He does not understand why it mimics him. The dwarf mocks it and is frightened by it. It confuses and disturbs him. He comes to loathe it.

At the instant the knowledge comes to the dwarf that he is the monster in the mirror, he also realizes that “it was at him that all the children had been laughing” (262). It is his knowledge of love and his awareness that he cannot be loved that is more than his heart can bear.

Written by kfabie

September 29th, 2010 at 2:18 am