The Remarkable Rocket by Oscar Wilde, 1888
The magic trick:
Showing every character to have major flaws – satirizing everything
We’ve been going through the Oscar Wilde collection of children’s stories, The Happy Prince, this week. So by now, it should come as no surprise that “The Remarkable Rocket” is drowning in cynicism. Even by Wilde’s standards, though, this is one is pretty relentless in its negativity.
Often when you employ satire, you will use a contrast to make your point, right? So if you are making a comment about the flaws of one character, you will do so by showing a series of other characters behaving better or more normal. Perhaps you have those characters reacting with disdain for that satirical characters’ mistakes.
But here? None of that. There is normal-abnormal schism at all. Only flaws as far as the eye can see. For sure, the titular rocket gets the brunt of the satire. He is pretty awful at every turn. But it’s not as if the other characters are perfect, or even good. Everyone in this story is ripe for criticism. Everyone is selfish. Everyone is oblivious. Everyone is flawed.
Which means this is a very funny story.
And that’s quite a trick on Wilde’s part.
‘Your picture was beautiful,’ he murmured, ‘but you are more beautiful than your picture;’ and the little Princess blushed.
‘She was like a white rose before,’ said a young Page to his neighbour, ‘but she is like a red rose now;’ and the whole Court was delighted.
For the next three days everybody went about saying, ‘White rose, Red rose, Red rose, White rose;’ and the King gave orders that the Page’s salary was to be doubled. As he received no salary at all this was not of much use to him, but it was considered a great honour, and was duly published in the Court Gazette.
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