A rhetorical critique of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales
The enduring popularity of Oscar Wilde is evidenced through the many modern treatments of his life and his wit. In the decades since his death, his life has been thoroughly discussed from almost every perspective. Several, but not all, of his works have received almost as rigorous analysis. However, the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde have not received the critical attention that they deserve in the century since their publication. Wilde uses the fairy tales not as simple exercises in prose; he uses the fairy tales to argue for the role of beauty in promoting compassion and empathy in man's daily existence. By using an Aristotelian approach which comprehensively considers the multiple causes of a work, a complete analysis of the multi-faceted nature of the fairy tales can be evaluated. The efficient cause examines the lesser known ethos of the kind and gentle Oscar Wilde, lending support to the position that he meant to delight and instruct with his tales. The contextual cause examines both the literary milieu of the growing market in children's literature and the intellectual and social milieu that Wilde joined as a social critic. The material and formal causes examine the language and mimetic quality of the tales themselves that reveal Wilde's argument that a love of beauty can help the individual transcend a purely material idea of beauty and move toward an immaterial idea of the beauty of compassion. The final cause examines the hoped-for effect on the reader, revealing Wilde's belief that the love of beauty can effect change in the individual which can then be used to effect change in society.