Oscar Wilde: The Devoted Friend. Full Story, Summary, and Analysis

In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Devoted Friend,” a bird tells a story about friendship to a water rat. In the story, a wealthy miller continually takes advantage of the generosity of his “friend” Hans, exploiting his kind nature without offering anything in return. While Hans works hard, helping the miller even to the detriment of his own well-being, the miller benefits from this one-sided friendship without remorse. Throughout the story, Wilde criticizes hypocrisy and selfishness disguised as true friendship, showing how Hans’ kindness is exploited by those who should be his friends.

Oscar Wilde: The Devoted Friend. Full Story, Summary, and Analysis

The Devoted Friend

Oscar Wilde
(Full Story)

One morning the old Water-rat put his head out of his hole. He had bright beady eyes and stiff grey whiskers and his tail was like a long bit of black india-rubber. The little ducks were swimming about in the pond, looking just like a lot of yellow canaries, and their mother, who was pure white with real red legs, was trying to teach them how to stand on their heads in the water.

“You will never be in the best society unless you can stand on your heads,” she kept saying to them; and every now and then she showed them how it was done. But the little ducks paid no attention to her. They were so young that they did not know what an advantage it is to be in society at all.

“What disobedient children!” cried the old Water-rat; “they really deserve to be drowned.”

“Nothing of the kind,” answered the Duck, “every one must make a beginning, and parents cannot be too patient.”

“Ah! I know nothing about the feelings of parents,” said the Water-rat; “I am not a family man. In fact, I have never been married, and I never intend to be. Love is all very well in its way, but friendship is much higher. Indeed, I know of nothing in the world that is either nobler or rarer than a devoted friendship.”

“And what, pray, is your idea of the duties of a devoted friend?” asked a green Linnet, who was sitting in a willow-tree hard by, and had overheard the conversation.

“Yes, that is just what I want to know,” said the Duck; and she swam away to the end of the pond, and stood upon her head, in order to give her children a good example.

“What a silly question!” cried the Water-rat. “I should expect my devoted friend to be devoted to me, of course.”

“And what would you do in return?” said the little bird, swinging upon a silver spray, and flapping his tiny wings.

“I don’t understand you,” answered the Water-rat.

“Let me tell you a story on the subject,” said the Linnet.

“Is the story about me?” asked the Water-rat.  “If so, I will listen to it, for I am extremely fond of fiction.”

“It is applicable to you,” answered the Linnet; and he flew down, and alighting upon the bank, he told the story of The Devoted Friend.

“Once upon a time,” said the Linnet, “there was an honest little fellow named Hans.”

“Was he very distinguished?” asked the Water-rat.

“No,” answered the Linnet, “I don’t think he was distinguished at all, except for his kind heart, and his funny round good-humoured face. He lived in a tiny cottage all by himself, and every day he worked in his garden. In all the country-side there was no garden so lovely as his. Sweet-william grew there, and Gilly-flowers, and Shepherds’-purses, and Fair-maids of France. There were damask Roses, and yellow Roses, lilac Crocuses and  gold, purple Violets and white. Columbine and Ladysmock, Marjoram and Wild Basil, the Cowslip and the Flower-de-luce, the Daffodil and the Clove-Pink bloomed or blossomed in their proper order as the months went by, one flower taking another flower’s place, so that there were always beautiful things to look at, and pleasant odours to smell.

“Little Hans had a great many friends, but the most devoted friend of all was big Hugh the Miller. Indeed, so devoted was the rich Miller to little Hans, that he would never go by his garden without leaning over the wall and plucking a large nosegay, or a handful of sweet herbs, or filling his pockets with plums and cherries if it was the fruit season.

“‘Real friends should have everything in common,’ the Miller used to say, and little Hans nodded and smiled, and felt very proud of having a friend with such noble ideas.

“Sometimes, indeed, the neighbours thought it strange that the rich Miller never gave little Hans anything in return, though he had a hundred sacks of flour stored away in his mill, and six milch cows, and a large flock of woolly sheep; but Hans never troubled his head about these things, and nothing gave him greater pleasure than to listen to all the wonderful things the Miller used to say about the unselfishness of true friendship.

“So little Hans worked away in his garden. During the spring, the summer, and the autumn he was very happy, but when the winter came, and he had no fruit or flowers to bring to the market, he suffered a good deal from cold and hunger, and often had to go to bed without any supper but a few dried pears or some hard nuts. In the winter, also, he was extremely lonely, as the Miller never came to see him then.

 “‘There is no good in my going to see little Hans as long as the snow lasts,’ the Miller used to say to his wife, ‘for when people are in trouble they should be left alone and not be bothered by visitors. That at least is my idea about friendship, and I am sure I am right. So I shall wait till the spring comes, and then I shall pay him a visit, and he will be able to give me a large basket of primroses, and that will make him so happy.’

“‘You are certainly very thoughtful about others,’ answered the Wife, as she sat in her comfortable armchair by the big pinewood fire; ‘very thoughtful indeed. It is quite a treat to hear you talk about friendship. I am sure the clergyman himself could not say such beautiful things as you do, though he does live in a three-storied house, and wear a gold ring on his little finger.’

“‘But could we not ask little Hans up  here?’ said the Miller’s youngest son. ‘If poor Hans is in trouble I will give him half my porridge, and show him my white rabbits.’

“‘What a silly boy you are!’ cried the Miller; ‘I really don’t know what is the use of sending you to school. You seem not to learn anything. Why, if little Hans came up here, and saw our warm fire, and our good supper, and our great cask of red wine, he might get envious, and envy is a most terrible thing, and would spoil anybody’s nature. I certainly will not allow Hans’ nature to be spoiled. I am his best friend, and I will always watch over him, and see that he is not led into any temptations. Besides, if Hans came here, he might ask me to let him have some flour on credit, and that I could not do. Flour is one thing and friendship is another, and they should not be confused. Why, the words are spelt differently, and mean  quite different things. Everybody can see that.’

“‘How well you talk!’ said the Miller’s Wife, pouring herself out a large glass of warm ale; ‘really I feel quite drowsy. It is just like being in church.’

“‘Lots of people act well,’ answered the Miller; ‘but very few people talk well, which shows that talking is much the more difficult thing of the two, and much the finer thing also’; and he looked sternly across the table at his little son, who felt so ashamed of himself that he hung his head down, and grew quite scarlet, and began to cry into his tea. However, he was so young that you must excuse him.”

“Is that the end of the story?” asked the Water-rat.

“Certainly not,” answered the Linnet, “that is the beginning.”

“Then you are quite behind the age,” said  the Water-rat. “Every good story-teller nowadays starts with the end, and then goes on to the beginning, and concludes with the middle. That is the new method. I heard all about it the other day from a critic who was walking round the pond with a young man. He spoke of the matter at great length, and I am sure he must have been right, for he had blue spectacles and a bald head, and whenever the young man made any remark, he always answered ‘Pooh!’ But pray go on with your story. I like the Miller immensely. I have all kinds of beautiful sentiments myself, so there is a great sympathy between us.”

“Well,” said the Linnet, hopping now on one leg and now on the other, “as soon as the winter was over, and the primroses  began to open their pale yellow stars, the Miller said to his wife that he would go down and see little Hans.

“‘Why, what a good heart you have!’ cried his Wife; ‘you are always thinking of others. And mind you take the big basket with you for the flowers.’

“So the Miller tied the sails of the windmill together with a strong iron chain, and went down the hill with the basket on his arm.

“‘Good morning, little Hans,’ said the Miller.

“‘Good morning,’ said Hans, leaning on his spade, and smiling from ear to ear.

“‘And how have you been all the winter?’ said the Miller.

“‘Well, really,’ cried Hans, ‘it is very good of you to ask, very good indeed. I am afraid I had rather a hard time of it, but now the spring has come, and I am quite happy, and all my flowers are doing well.’

“‘We often talked of you during the winter, Hans,’ said the Miller, ‘and wondered how you were getting on.’

“‘That was kind of you,’ said Hans; ‘I was half afraid you had forgotten me.’

“‘Hans, I am surprised at you,’ said the Miller; ‘friendship never forgets. That is the wonderful thing about it, but I am afraid you don’t understand the poetry of life. How lovely your primroses are looking, by-the-bye!’

“‘They are certainly very lovely,’ said Hans, ‘and it is a most lucky thing for me that I have so many. I am going to bring them into the market and sell them to the Burgomaster’s daughter, and buy back my wheelbarrow with the money.’

“‘Buy back your wheelbarrow? You don’t mean to say you have sold it? What a very stupid thing to do!’

“‘Well, the fact is,’ said Hans, ‘that I was obliged to. You see the winter was a very bad time for me, and I really had no money at all to buy bread with. So I first sold the silver buttons off my Sunday coat, and then I sold my silver chain, and then I sold my big pipe, and at last I sold my wheelbarrow. But I am going to buy them all back again now.’

“‘Hans,’ said the Miller, ‘I will give you my wheelbarrow. It is not in very good repair; indeed, one side is gone, and there is something wrong with the wheel-spokes; but in spite of that I will give it to you. I know it is very generous of me, and a great many people would think me extremely foolish for parting with it, but I am not like the rest of the world. I think that generosity is the essence of friendship, and, besides, I have got a new wheelbarrow for myself. Yes, you may  set your mind at ease, I will give you my wheelbarrow.’

“‘Well, really, that is generous of you,’ said little Hans, and his funny round face glowed all over with pleasure. ‘I can easily put it in repair, as I have a plank of wood in the house.’

“‘A plank of wood!’ said the Miller; ‘why, that is just what I want for the roof of my barn. There is a very large hole in it, and the corn will all get damp if I don’t stop it up. How lucky you mentioned it! It is quite remarkable how one good action always breeds another. I have given you my wheelbarrow, and now you are going to give me your plank. Of course, the wheelbarrow is worth far more than the plank, but true friendship never notices things like that. Pray get it at once, and I will set to work at my barn this very day.’

“‘Certainly,’ cried little Hans, and he ran into the shed and dragged the plank out.

“‘It is not a very big plank,’ said the Miller, looking at it, ‘and I am afraid that after I have mended my barn-roof there won’t be any left for you to mend the wheelbarrow with; but, of course, that is not my fault. And now, as I have given you my wheelbarrow, I am sure you would like to give me some flowers in return. Here is the basket, and mind you fill it quite full.’

“‘Quite full?’ said little Hans, rather sorrowfully, for it was really a very big basket, and he knew that if he filled it he would have no flowers left for the market, and he was very anxious to get his silver buttons back.

“‘Well, really,’ answered the Miller, ‘as I have given you my wheelbarrow, I don’t think that it is much to ask you for a few flowers. I may be wrong, but I should have thought  that friendship, true friendship, was quite free from selfishness of any kind.’

“‘My dear friend, my best friend,’ cried little Hans, ‘you are welcome to all the flowers in my garden. I would much sooner have your good opinion than my silver buttons, any day;’ and he ran and plucked all his pretty primroses, and filled the Miller’s basket.

“‘Good-bye, little Hans,’ said the Miller, as he went up the hill with the plank on his shoulder, and the big basket in his hand.

“‘Good-bye,’ said little Hans, and he began to dig away quite merrily, he was so pleased about the wheelbarrow.

“The next day he was nailing up some honeysuckle against the porch, when he heard the Miller’s voice calling to him from the road. So he jumped off the ladder, and ran down the garden, and looked over the wall.

“There was the Miller with a large sack of flour on his back.

“‘Dear little Hans,’ said the Miller, ‘would you mind carrying this sack of flour for me to market?’

“‘Oh, I am so sorry,’ said Hans, ‘but I am really very busy to-day. I have got all my creepers to nail up, and all my flowers to water, and all my grass to roll.’

“‘Well, really,’ said the Miller, ‘I think that, considering that I am going to give you my wheelbarrow, it is rather unfriendly of you to refuse.’

“‘Oh, don’t say that,’ cried little Hans, ‘I wouldn’t be unfriendly for the whole world;’ and he ran in for his cap, and trudged off with the big sack on his shoulders.

“It was a very hot day, and the road was terribly dusty, and before Hans had reached the sixth milestone he was so tired that he had  to sit down and rest. However, he went on bravely, and at last he reached the market. After he had waited there some time, he sold the sack of flour for a very good price, and then he returned home at once, for he was afraid that if he stopped too late he might meet some robbers on the way.

“‘It has certainly been a hard day,’ said little Hans to himself as he was going to bed, ‘but I am glad I did not refuse the Miller, for he is my best friend, and, besides, he is going to give me his wheelbarrow.’

“Early the next morning the Miller came down to get the money for his sack of flour, but little Hans was so tired that he was still in bed.

“‘Upon my word,’ said the Miller, ‘you are very lazy. Really, considering that I am going to give you my wheelbarrow, I think you might work harder. Idleness is a great  sin, and I certainly don’t like any of my friends to be idle or sluggish. You must not mind my speaking quite plainly to you. Of course I should not dream of doing so if I were not your friend. But what is the good of friendship if one cannot say exactly what one means? Anybody can say charming things and try to please and to flatter, but a true friend always says unpleasant things, and does not mind giving pain. Indeed, if he is a really true friend he prefers it, for he knows that then he is doing good.’

“‘I am very sorry,’ said little Hans, rubbing his eyes and pulling off his night-cap, ‘but I was so tired that I thought I would lie in bed for a little time, and listen to the birds singing. Do you know that I always work better after hearing the birds sing?’

“‘Well, I am glad of that,’ said the Miller, clapping little Hans on the back, ‘for I want  you to come up to the mill as soon as you are dressed and mend my barn-roof for me.’

“Poor little Hans was very anxious to go and work in his garden, for his flowers had not been watered for two days, but he did not like to refuse the Miller as he was such a good friend to him.

“‘Do you think it would be unfriendly of me if I said I was busy?’ he inquired in a shy and timid voice.

“‘Well, really,’ answered the Miller, ‘I do not think it is much to ask of you, considering that I am going to give you my wheelbarrow; but of course if you refuse I will go and do it myself.’

“‘Oh! on no account,’ cried little Hans; and he jumped out of bed, and dressed himself, and went up to the barn.

“He worked there all day long, till sunset, and at sunset the Miller came to see how he was getting on.

“‘Have you mended the hole in the roof yet, little Hans?’ cried the Miller in a cheery voice.

“‘It is quite mended,’ answered little Hans, coming down the ladder.

“‘Ah!’ said the Miller, ‘there is no work so delightful as the work one does for others.’

“‘It is certainly a great privilege to hear you talk,’ answered little Hans, sitting down and wiping his forehead, ‘a very great privilege. But I am afraid I shall never have such beautiful ideas as you have.’

“‘Oh! they will come to you,’ said the Miller, ‘but you must take more pains. At present you have only the practice of friendship; some day you will have the theory also.’

“‘Do you really think I shall?’ asked little Hans.

“‘I have no doubt of it,’ answered the Miller, ‘but now that you have mended the  roof, you had better go home and rest, for I want you to drive my sheep to the mountain to-morrow.’

“Poor little Hans was afraid to say anything to this, and early the next morning the Miller brought his sheep round to the cottage, and Hans started off with them to the mountain. It took him the whole day to get there and back; and when he returned he was so tired that he went off to sleep in his chair, and did not wake up till it was broad daylight.

“‘What a delightful time I shall have in my garden!’ he said, and he went to work at once.

“But somehow he was never able to look after his flowers at all, for his friend the Miller was always coming round and sending him off on long errands, or getting him to help at the mill. Little Hans was very much distressed at times, as he was afraid his flowers  would think he had forgotten them, but he consoled himself by the reflection that the Miller was his best friend. ‘Besides,’ he used to say, ‘he is going to give me his wheelbarrow, and that is an act of pure generosity.’

“So little Hans worked away for the Miller, and the Miller said all kinds of beautiful things about friendship, which Hans took down in a notebook, and used to read over at night, for he was a very good scholar.

“Now it happened that one evening little Hans was sitting by his fireside when a loud rap came at the door. It was a very wild night, and the wind was blowing and roaring round the house so terribly that at first he thought it was merely the storm. But a second rap came, and then a third, louder than any of the others.

“‘It is some poor traveller,’ said little Hans to himself, and he ran to the door.

“There stood the Miller with a lantern in one hand and a big stick in the other.

“‘Dear little Hans,’ cried the Miller, ‘I am in great trouble. My little boy has fallen off a ladder and hurt himself, and I am going for the Doctor. But he lives so far away, and it is such a bad night, that it has just occurred to me that it would be much better if you went instead of me. You know I am going to give you my wheelbarrow, and so it is only fair that you should do something for me in return.’

“‘Certainly,’ cried little Hans, ‘I take it quite as a compliment your coming to me, and I will start off at once. But you must lend me your lantern, as the night is so dark that I am afraid I might fall into the ditch.’

“‘I am very sorry,’ answered the Miller, ‘but it is my new lantern and it would be a great loss to me if anything happened to it.’

“‘Well, never mind, I will do without it,’ cried little Hans, and he took down his great fur coat, and his warm scarlet cap, and tied a muffler round his throat, and started off.

“What a dreadful storm it was! The night was so black that little Hans could hardly see, and the wind was so strong that he could scarcely stand. However, he was very courageous, and after he had been walking about three hours, he arrived at the Doctor’s house, and knocked at the door.

“‘Who is there?’ cried the Doctor, putting his head out of his bedroom window.

“‘Little Hans, Doctor.’

“‘What do you want, little Hans?’

“‘The Miller’s son has fallen from a ladder, and has hurt himself, and the Miller wants you to come at once.’

“‘All right!’ said the Doctor; and he ordered his horse, and his big boots, and his  lantern, and came downstairs, and rode off in the direction of the Miller’s house, little Hans trudging behind him.

“But the storm grew worse and worse, and the rain fell in torrents, and little Hans could not see where he was going, or keep up with the horse. At last he lost his way, and wandered off on the moor, which was a very dangerous place, as it was full of deep holes, and there poor little Hans was drowned. His body was found the next day by some goatherds, floating in a great pool of water, and was brought back by them to the cottage.

“Everybody went to little Hans’ funeral, as he was so popular, and the Miller was the chief mourner.

“‘As I was his best friend,’ said the Miller, ‘it is only fair that I should have the best place;’ so he walked at the head of the procession in a long black cloak, and every now  and then he wiped his eyes with a big pocket-handkerchief.

“‘Little Hans is certainly a great loss to every one,’ said the Blacksmith, when the funeral was over, and they were all seated comfortably in the inn, drinking spiced wine and eating sweet cakes.

“‘A great loss to me at any rate,’ answered the Miller, ‘why, I had as good as given him my wheelbarrow, and now I really don’t know what to do with it. It is very much in my way at home, and it is in such bad repair that I could not get anything for it if I sold it. I will certainly take care not to give away anything again. One always suffers for being generous.’”

 “Well?” said the Water-rat, after a long pause.

“Well, that is the end,” said the Linnet.

“But what became of the Miller?” asked the Water-rat.

“Oh! I really don’t know,” replied the Linnet; “and I am sure that I don’t care.”

“It is quite evident then that you have no sympathy in your nature,” said the Water-rat.

“I am afraid you don’t quite see the moral of the story,” remarked the Linnet.

“The what?” screamed the Water-rat.

“The moral.”

“Do you mean to say that the story has a moral?”

“Certainly,” said the Linnet.

“Well, really,” said the Water-rat, in a very angry manner, “I think you should have told me that before you began. If you had done so, I certainly would not have listened to you; in fact, I should have said ‘Pooh,’ like the critic. However, I can say it now;” so he shouted out “Pooh” at the top of his voice, gave a whisk with his tail, and went back into his hole.

“And how do you like the Water-rat?” asked the Duck, who came paddling up some minutes afterwards. “He has a great many good points, but for my own part I have a mother’s feelings, and I can never look at a confirmed bachelor without the tears coming into my eyes.”

“I am rather afraid that I have annoyed him,” answered the Linnet. “The fact is, that I told him a story with a moral.”

“Ah! that is always a very dangerous thing to do,” said the Duck.

And I quite agree with her.


Reading Guide: The Devoted Friend, Summary and Analysis

Summary of Oscar Wilde’s The Devoted Friend

In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Devoted Friend“, the narrative unfolds with a story within a story structure. The tale starts with a scene in which a Water Rat, a Duck, and a Green Linnet discuss the virtues of friendship. The Water Rat’s self-centered perspective on friendship appears insensitive and selfish. At this point, the Green Linnet suggests telling a story to illustrate the true meaning of being a faithful friend.

The story told by the Green Linnet is about little Hans, a young gardener who is generous and always willing to help others. Hans lives in a modest cottage in the countryside and spends his days tending to his beautiful garden, which is his greatest pride and source of joy. His best friend is Hugh, the Miller, a wealthy man who frequently takes advantage of Hans’ kindness without any retribution on his part.

Throughout the year, the Miller repeatedly visits Hans, always asking for favors and taking flowers and fruits from Hans’ garden without offering him anything in return. During the winter, Hans suffers from hunger and cold as he has no produce to sell at the market. The Miller, arguing that he should not bother Hans during difficult times, does not offer him any help or visit him.

When spring arrives, the Miller reappears and continues to take advantage of Hans’s generosity. He promises to give him his old wheelbarrow but only if Hans does him several favors, including lending him timber to repair the Miller’s barn roof and carrying a sack of flour to the market. Hans, always eager to help and believing in the Miller’s friendship, agrees to all of his demands, even when it causes him great effort and sacrifice.

The story reaches its climax on a stormy night when the Miller arrives at Hans’ house, requesting him to fetch the doctor because his son has fallen and been injured. Despite the terrible weather and dangerous task, Hans agrees to go. However, he gets lost on the way and falls into a pond, where he drowns.

The story ends with Hans’ funeral, which is attended by the entire neighborhood. The Miller, who presents himself as Hans’ best friend, leads the funeral procession; however, he mourns more for the wheelbarrow, unable to decide what to do with it, than for Hans’ death. This ending reveals the Miller’s true selfish and manipulative nature.

After hearing the story, the Water-rat, unable to understand the moral, leaves annoyed, demonstrating its complete misunderstanding of the lesson about true friendship and selfless sacrifice.

Through its clear and direct narration, this tale highlights Wilde’s characteristic irony and social criticism, showcasing human hypocrisy and selfishness through the relationship between Hans and the Miller.

Characters in Oscar Wilde’s The Devoted Friend

Little Hans: The protagonist of the story told by the Green Linnet, Hans, is a young gardener who embodies kindness and generosity. He lives in a humble cottage in the countryside and dedicates his days to tending his garden, which is his greatest pride. Hans is characterized by his docile nature and his willingness to help others without expecting anything in return. His naivety and trust in friendship lead him to continually sacrifice himself for his “friend” Hugh, the Miller. Hans represents the victim of selfishness and exploitation; his goodness is exploited to the tragic extreme of his death. His character highlights the story’s central theme of the true nature of friendship and selfless sacrifice.

Hugh, the Miller: The Miller is the main antagonist in the story. He is a rich and selfish man who constantly takes advantage of Hans’ generosity. Through his behavior, Wilde criticizes hypocrisy and selfishness. Hugh never returns the favors he receives, and his concept of friendship is entirely utilitarian. He shields himself in his supposed moral superiority and speeches about friendship to justify his manipulative actions. The relationship between the Miller and Hans reflects the power relations and exploitation in society, where the rich and powerful take advantage of the weak and vulnerable.

The Water-rat: The Water-rat is a character that appears in the frame of the story, dialoguing with the Duck and the Green Linnet. He symbolizes insensitivity and self-centeredness. His view on friendship resembles that of the Miller, as he believes that being a loyal friend means only receiving and not giving anything in return. The Water-rat is unable to understand the moral of the story shared by the Green Linnet, highlighting his obtuse and selfish character.

The Duck: The Duck is a secondary character, along with her ducklings, providing a contrast to the Water-rat’s attitude. She represents patience and motherly love, showing understanding and care for her children, as opposed to the Water-rat’s cold indifference to any kind of affectionate relationship. The Duck is also receptive to stories and morals, making her a more sensitive and empathetic character.

The Green Linnet: The Green Linnet is the narrator of Hans’ story within the framework of the tale. He acts as a wise figure who attempts to teach a lesson about the true nature of friendship through his tale. His patience and willingness to share a moralizing story set him apart from the other animals in the opening conversation. The Green Linnet is a vehicle for conveying Wilde’s critique of hypocrisy and selfishness, using the power of storytelling to reflect profound truths about human behavior.

The secondary characters (the Miller’s wife and the Miller’s son): The Miller’s wife and son are minor characters who provide further insight into the Miller’s character and demonstrate the outcomes of his selfish actions. The Miller’s wife supports and approves of her husband’s behavior, representing complicity in selfishness. On the other hand, his son displays genuine compassion by suggesting to help Hans, highlighting the Miller’s lack of empathy and cruelty.

Analysis of Oscar Wilde’s The Faithful Friend

Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Devoted Friend” is set in a rural environment, where the simplicity of the landscape contrasts with the complexity of human relationships explored in the narrative. The story primarily takes place in Hans’s garden and around Hugh’s mill, creating a pastoral setting that reflects the natural harmony disturbed by human exploitation.

The narrative structure of the story is particularly interesting as it includes a story within a story. Hans’s story is told by the Green Linnet in conversation with the Water-rat and the Duck, who act as a framework for the main narrative. This literary device allows Wilde to introduce a reflection on the nature of friendship and selfishness in a more direct and effective way.

One of the main themes that Wilde develops is the exploitation of kindness and generosity. Through the relationship between Hans and the Miller, the author exposes how selfish individuals can take advantage of the generous, using the rhetoric of friendship to justify their behavior. According to Hugh, friendship is one-way and utilitarian, which contrasts sharply with the idealized vision of Hans, who believes in a friendship based on mutual support and selfless sacrifice.

Wilde’s writing style in this story is notably ironic and critical. He employs a direct and transparent language, with dialogues that unveils the true intentions and personalities of the characters. The narrative tone is cutting, especially in its portrayal of the Miller’s actions, which accentuates the hypocrisy and self-centeredness of his character. At the same time, the tone is compassionate and sorrowful when describing Hans’ innocence and goodness, which deeply resonates with the reader, fostering a profound reflection on the injustice of his fate.

The narrative’s pace is unhurried but constant, allowing events to unfold naturally and the interactions between the characters to gradually reveal the exploitative dynamics. Wilde uses the technique of dramatic irony, where the reader is made aware of the true nature of the Miller’s actions while Hans remains naïve and trusting. This technique intensifies the tragedy of the story, as the reader anticipates the fatal outcome while observing how Hans is repeatedly manipulated.

The historical and cultural context of the Victorian era significantly influences the story. In a society characterized by rigid class divisions and moral appearances, Wilde uses the relationship between Hans and the Miller to criticize inequalities and the superficiality of social norms. The story can be seen as an allegory of the exploitation of the working class by the elite, reflecting Wilde’s social concerns about justice and morality in the society of his time.

The story’s purpose appears to be an accusation of hypocrisy and the absence of genuine compassion in human relationships. Wilde illustrates that true friendship requires sacrifice and reciprocity, and the lack of these elements can result in exploitation and tragedy. The conclusion, with Hans’ death and Miller’s indifference, highlights the harshness of this reality and serves as a reminder of the necessity of sincerity and generosity in human relationships.

General review of the short story The Devoted Friend by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Devoted Friend” stands out for its sharp and biting critique of human nature, specifically in the context of friendship and morality. The story is remarkable not only for its plot but also for the depth of its characters and the author’s ability to weave a narrative that is both simple and loaded with complex meanings.

Wilde portrays little Hans as a paradigm of innocence and purity of heart.  Hans is the epitome of naïve kindness, willing to sacrifice his own welfare in the name of a friendship he believes to be sincere. This selfless disposition sharply contrasts with the figure of the Miller, who represents selfishness and manipulation under the appearance of friendship. The disparity between these two main characters not only highlights exploitation but also serves as a reflection on the vulnerability of the good guys in the face of the devious.

The use of framed narrative, where Hans’ story is told by the Green Linnet to the Water-rat and the Duck, adds a meta-narrative dimension to the tale. This technique allows Wilde to explicitly expose the moral of the story while criticizing the inability of some, such as the Water-rat, to understand the moral lessons. The Green Linnet’s insistence on telling the story with explicit morals underlines Wilde’s didactic intent, which seeks not only to entertain but also to educate the reader about the true nature of friendship.

The moral of Oscar Wilde’s The Devoted Friend is a sharp critique of the nature of true friendship and the exploitation of people’s kindness and generosity. Through the relationship between Hans and the Miller, Wilde illustrates how selfless kindness can be exploited by selfish individuals who disguise their manipulative actions under the guise of friendship.

Little Hans represents sincerity and genuine kindness, always willing to sacrifice himself for others without expecting anything in return. In contrast, the Miller embodies selfishness and hypocrisy, using the rhetoric of friendship to justify his exploitation of Hans. The tragedy of Hans, who dies because of his willingness to help the Miller even in dangerous circumstances, underscores the cruelty and injustice of such one-sided relationships.

In The Devoted Friend, Oscar Wilde warns us about the dangers of exploitation disguised as friendship and invites us to reflect on the importance of reciprocity and mutual respect in human relationships. Wilde shows us that true friendship is not based on convenience or manipulation but on sacrifice and genuine generosity on both sides. The story serves as a call to be aware of those who might take advantage of our kindness and to value truly equitable and selfless relationships.

For what audience is the story The Devoted Friend by Oscar Wilde recommended?

Oscar Wilde’s “The Devoted Friend” is a story with multiple levels of interpretation, making it accessible and relevant to different ages, although older readers best appreciate its message and content. At first glance, the story’s simple structure and language seem suitable for children, and indeed, its fable-like form appeals to young readers. However, the content and underlying themes of the story, such as exploitation, hypocrisy, and social criticism, make it a more appropriate read for teens and adults.

For younger children, the story could be superficially understood as a tale about friendship and generosity. However, the nuances and ironies of the text, as well as Hans’ ultimate tragedy, may be too complex and potentially disturbing for this audience. Moreover, the moral lesson Wilde intends to impart requires a certain emotional and intellectual maturity to be fully understood.

Adolescents, on the other hand, are in an ideal position to appreciate both the narrative and the deeper themes of the story. At this age, readers can begin to understand Wilde’s social criticisms and irony and reflect on the complexities of human relationships. The tragic outcome and the emotional manipulation Hans suffers can serve as a valuable point of discussion about the true nature of friendship and the importance of reciprocity and mutual respect in relationships.

For adults, “The Devoted Friend” offers a rich reflection on the dynamics of power and exploitation and an incisive critique of Victorian-era social and moral norms, many of which still resonate today. Adults can appreciate Wilde’s mastery of irony and satire and find in the story a relevant review  on the human condition and the nature of social relationships.

Oscar Wilde: The Devoted Friend. Full Story, Summary, and Analysis
  • Author: Oscar Wilde
  • Title: The Devoted Friend
  • Published in: The Happy Prince and other tales (1888)