The-Selfish-Giant-Summary-and-Analysis-Grade-11-English-Section-II-Literature-Unit-1-Short-Stories
Grade 11: English_Section II: Literature

Unit 1 Short Stories

Lesson 1. The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde.

'The Selfish Giant' is a short story for children written by Oscar Wilde. It was first published in the anthology The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888. This story is about a giant who learned an important lesson about love and sharing, and holds different meanings for people of different age.

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Curriculum of Grade 11-XI | Compulsory English | Subject Code:003 | 2076 | PDF DOWNLOAD. alert-success

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The Selfish Giant_Summary & Analysis.

Every afternoon after school, the children go to the Giant’s garden to play. This is their favorite spot in the neighborhood. The garden is spacious and green, brimming with peach trees, beautiful flowers, and birdsong, and it makes the children very happy.

(In the story’s Christian allegory, the Giant’s garden is analogous to the biblical Garden of Eden, the idyllic paradise where humans first came into being. The creation myth in the Book of Genesis describes Adam and Eve, the first humans, as innocent and naive, lacking all knowledge of good and evil. Many Christian writers see parallels between childhood—a time when such moral distinctions as “good” or “evil” are hazy—and the state of humanity in Eden, before their Fall. Wilde clearly follows in this literary tradition, placing the innocent children in a garden setting from which they are about to be expelled.)

One day, however, the Giant returns home from a long vacation—he had spent the past seven years visiting a friend of his, an ogre, leaving his own property unattended. When he discovers the children playing in his garden, he angrily drives them out. “My own garden is my own garden,” he declares, “[…] any one can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.” The Giant then constructs a high wall around his garden, on which he hangs a sign which reads, “TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED.”

(This moment establishes the Giant’s selfishness as his defining characteristic, as well as the source of the story’s conflict. The wall he raises is a symbol of the emotional barrier he maintains between himself and the children, which prevents him from forming any kind of relationship with them. The sign, meanwhile, speaks to how unreasonable his selfishness is—only a truly cynical person would take legal action against children.)

Despondent, the children are forced to find another place to play. They try playing in the street, but it is rocky and dusty - so they return to the Giant’s property and spend their afternoons wandering aimlessly around the high wall, reminiscing sadly about the garden and how happy it used to make them.

(Continuing the implicit comparison to the Garden of Eden, here Wilde shows the harsh world outside the garden, where the earth is hard and unyielding. Crucially, however, the children do not deserve this hardship; it is the Giant’s sin which expelled them from their paradise.)

When Spring arrives, the Giant’s garden remains trapped in Winter, as all the trappings of springtime - the birds, the trees, the flowers, and so on—feel sorry for the children, and they refuse to appear while their little friends are absent.

(The harsh, long-winded winter weather is the consequence of the Giant’s selfishness. By rejecting the children, the Giant has unknowingly rejected the other good and natural things which once resided in his garden.)

Only the forces of Winter are pleased by this turn events, and they make the garden their new home throughout the year. The Snow and the Frost blanket everything in white; the North Wind blows all about, knocking down the Giant’s chimney-pots; the Hail dances atop the castle roof, damaging it, and then flings himself about the garden.

(Just as the Giant’s selfishness drives out warmth and cheer, it attracts only cold, inhospitable weather. The implicit comparison between the coldhearted Giant and the wintry weather around him is straightforward enough. In broader terms, however, this section also suggests a system of cosmic justice at work, punishing the Giant in a way that fits his sin.)

Meanwhile, Spring, Summer, and Autumn all refuse to appear, on account of the Giant’s selfishness, and the Giant is left cold, miserable, and confused. “I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,” he says, adding, “I hope there will be a change in the weather.”

(This moment establishes a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the Giant’s selfishness and his present suffering: the warm seasons do not return precisely because he is too selfish. The Giant’s inability to see this line of causality shows that he is not yet ready to atone for what he did—and it also suggests that redemption is not easily achievable without some kind of moral guidance. No one has shown the Giant the error of his ways, and so he cannot see the error at all. This moment also harkens back to his earlier claim that “My own garden is my own garden, […] any one can understand that.” With this, the Giant frames his own standards of property and propriety as universal and expects others to see them as a plain matter of fact, but when faced with the actual laws of the universe, by his own admission he “cannot understand” why Spring does not come to his garden.)

One morning, the Giant hears what sounds like lovely music outside his window, and “so sweet to his ears that he thought it must be the King’s musicians passing by.” It is actually a linnet chirping its song, yet the time the Giant has spent without hearing birdsong has made it sound incomparably beautiful to him. Then the Giant hears that the forces of Winter have stopped their assault on his home, and he smells the aroma of flowers wafting in through the window. Spring seems to have arrived at last.

(The Giant has been so long deprived of good weather that he now truly appreciates its value. This follows from the Christian idea that suffering has purifying, redemptive power. Suffering a long penance makes goodness feel all the sweeter, and it makes one all the more eager to participate in it. Since the long winter was the direct result of the Giant’s selfishness, and was uniquely suited to his sin, it can be considered a “penance” in this context; clearly it has had the intended psychological effect of a penance. A linnet also appears in Wilde’s “The Devoted Friend,” another fairytale story that deals with selfishness, generosity, and friendship.)

Upon looking outside, the Giant sees “a most wonderful sight.” Spring has indeed returned to his garden—because the children have also returned. They crept inside through a hole in the wall, much to the delight of the birds and the trees, and are now enjoying the garden as they once did. Winter remains only in the far corner of the garden, where a little boy, too small to climb the tree there, is left crying with no one to help him.

(Not only does this moment show the cosmic order at work, sending just rewards to those who deserve them, but it also shows the transformative power that children can have on the world. Simply by virtue of their purity and goodness, the children have brought springtime back to the garden. The Giant himself does not deserve this, but the children’s good nature outweighs the Giant’s bad behaviour, and so the garden has returned to its natural state.)

Moved by this scene, “the Giant’s heart melt[s],” and he understands at once that his selfishness is what kept Spring away. Immediately he vows to make amends: “I will put that poor little boy on top of the tree, and then I will knock down the wall, and my garden shall be the children’s playground for ever and ever.”

(The sight of the children’s return was the missing piece of information that kept the Giant from understanding that he himself was the cause of the long winter. The sudden change in seasons prompts the Giant to compare himself to the children, which causes him to reflect upon his shortcomings and realize that he has been selfish. This exemplifies the biblical lesson from Matthew 19:14: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Without even realizing it, the children improve the Giant morally. Had he allowed them into his garden and into his life, as in the passage, he never would have suffered as he did.)

As the Giant enters the garden, all of the children flee from him in fear, and the garden instantly grows icy and cold. Only the little boy in the corner remains, because his eyes are so full of tears that he can’t see the Giant. The Giant approaches him quietly from behind, gently picks him up, and places him in the tree. At once the tree blossoms all over, birds sing, and the little boy kisses the Giant in thanks.

(This is the moment in which the Giant atones for his wrongdoing in the eyes of heaven. Before he helps the little boy into the tree, the Giant’s approach scares of the children and re-invites winter weather into the garden—but as soon as he performs this unselfish gesture, the world responds by blossoming into spring once more, just as it does for the children. The Giant has earned the approval of the cosmic powers that have thus far only punished him.)

Seeing this, the children realize that the Giant now means well. They return to the garden, bringing Spring with them. The Giant declares, “It is your garden now, little children,” and he knocks down the wall with his axe. All that day, the children played in the garden with their new friend, the Giant.

(The 19th-century belief in the innate goodness of children also yielded the belief that children have a natural internal sense for good or malicious intent, otherwise known as discernment. This scene clearly follows from that line of thought, as the children are immediately able to sense the Giant’s good intent and forgive him.)

As the children bid him farewell that evening, the Giant asks after the little boy who had kissed him, having grown especially fond of him. The children simply respond that they don’t know where he went, where he lives, or even who he is - they’ve never seen him before. This saddens the Giant, and although he sees the children every afternoon thenceforth, and enjoys their company, thoughts of his “first little friend” still linger in his mind.

(This moment foreshadows the story’s ending and the little boy’s return. It also proceeds from the Catholic concept of charity: love for God above all, which in turn provokes love for one’s neighbour. The Giant loves the little boy best of all, and this relationship is what begins his broader friendship with the other children.)

Years pass, and the Giant comes to cherish the children more than the garden itself, calling them “the most beautiful flowers of all.” In his old age, he enjoys the children’s company from the comfort of an armchair, content to watch them play.

(The Giant’s character has greatly developed since his first appearance, and it shows in how he now values the children far above his possessions. He once loved the garden because it was his, but now he values the children because of their innate goodness and beauty. His self-interest is no longer a part of how he assigns value to the world.)

One morning in Winter—which he no longer hates, “for he knew that it was merely the Spring asleep” - the Giant awakes to a miraculous sight. The tree in the farthest corner of the garden has transformed, bearing white blossoms and silver fruit on its now-golden branches. Beneath the tree is none other than the little boy who once tried to climb it, evidently no older than he had been then.

(This is the first sign that the little boy is not what he seems. His appearance in this passage, seemingly still the same age as years ago, is itself a miracle—but in addition to this, the tree’s transformation is far beyond what the neighborhood children brought about earlier in the story. At this point in the story, the tree builds into a symbol of the cross, and its adornment with gold and silver seems to mirror ornate Catholic crucifixes.)

Overjoyed, the Giant rushes down to meet his friend, yet stops when he sees that the little boy’s hands and feet bear wounds, evidently from nails that had pierced them through. Enraged that someone would dare wound a child, let alone his first and dearest friend, the Giant vows to strike the culprit down with his sword—but the child bids him peace. “Nay,” he says, “but these are the wounds of Love.” At this moment, the Giant realizes that he is in the presence of no ordinary child. “Who art thou?” he asks, reverently kneeling before the boy.

(The wounds of Christ’s Crucifixion, called the Stigmata of Christ in the Christian tradition, are the clearest identifying marker that the boy receives without being named outright as Jesus Christ. They are distinctive enough that the Giant, upon recognizing what they signify, at once kneels reverently before the boy. Sometimes the Stigmata do not signify Jesus Christ himself, but a merely a holy person—but even so, this is clearly someone to whom the Giant should show respect.)

The little boy does not answer the Giant directly, but rather says, “You let me play once in your garden, today you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.” When the children visit the Giant that afternoon, they find his body lying beneath the tree, covered in its white blossoms.

(The story’s ending completes the Giant’s character arc and the Christian allegory told through him. In the Christian framework that Wilde sets in place, the reward of heaven is what holds the story’s moral centre in place. It gives legitimacy to the Giant’s kind actions beyond what any mere social reward can provide. It is the surest, clearest sign that generosity and love are the right moral path, and that the world operates according to a just cosmic order. Furthermore, that the little boy talks of “my garden, which is Paradise” seems to point to both Eden and heaven, which is further evidence that he is the Christ Child. This point is made all the clearer when the Giant dies that day under the tree - symbolic of the Cross - covered in white blossoms, a colour that commonly symbolizes purity.)

Redemption_Theme_ Analysis of "The Selfish Giant".

The theme of redemption occupies a special and distinct place in “The Selfish Giant.” The redemptive arc of the Giant’s character is what drives the plot forward—but more than this, redemption of the soul is a core promise of Christianity, and Wilde’s fairy tale communicates this promise in clear and decidedly Christian terms. At the end of the story, the first child the Giant befriended, the little boy, is revealed to be the Christ Child, identifiable by the wounds of his Crucifixion. He offers the Giant eternal life in Paradise as reward for overcoming his selfishness and letting the children play in his garden. Thus the Giant’s spirit moves on to a happy afterlife, following Jesus Christ. Christianity teaches that anyone who repents of their sins can earn eternal reward in heaven, and “The Selfish Giant” illustrates precisely this idea through the titular Giant.

For a person to be redeemed, they must first be a sinner; redemption comes in the acknowledgment of sin, followed by genuine contrition for it. Wilde sets up the Giant as an example of this very process: the character goes from selfishness to kindness, with recognition of his selfishness as the crucial middle step between these points. First Wilde establishes that the Giant’s sin is selfishness. The title, “The Selfish Giant,” is already straightforward enough, but it is only the first of many explicit signposts. After the Giant builds his wall, declaring, “My own garden is my own garden,” the narrator simply states outright: “He was a very selfish Giant.” Later he is called “the Selfish Giant” in the body of the text, and the personified Autumn says of him, “He is too selfish.” Over and over, in the style of most fables with morals, the singular point of the Giant’s selfishness is pressed. Then, when the Giant realizes the error of his ways, he identifies his sin and the reason behind his suffering: “‘How selfish I have been!’ he said: ‘Now I know why Spring would not come here.’” As the narrator remarks, “He was really very sorry for what he had done.” This sequence of thoughts closely follows the Catholic concept of contrition. In Catholic theology, a truly repentant person first feels recognition, then guilt, then contrition - a feeling which is not just remorse for one’s sins, but also abhorrence for the sin. In the Catholic sacrament of Penance, the contrite person then performs some action which makes up for the sins they have committed, and redeems their soul. True to this, the Giant’s next thought is to undo the bad effects of his selfishness: “I will put that poor little boy on the top of the tree, and then I will knock down the wall, and my garden shall be the children’s playground for ever and ever.”

The redemption of the Giant’s soul takes an even more explicitly Christian tone at the story’s end, when the Christ Child welcomes him into heaven. This scene references two major points of Catholic doctrine, both of them having to do with the redemption of souls. The appearance of Jesus Christ before the Giant is likely a reference to Catholic teachings on the Second Coming. The Catholic Church teaches that at the end of the world, Christ will return in the flesh, and bring all the dead back to life, to live in a heaven that is physical as well spiritual. Although the Giant’s body dies and remains dead, the physical presence of Christ before the dying seems to recall the Catholic doctrine.

More importantly, the tree in the Giant’s garden is a stand-in for the cross, a Christian symbol of universal redemption. “Tree” is often used as a poetic term for the cross or crucifix, and the appearance of the Christ Child beside the Giant’s tree leaves little doubt that this is Wilde’s intent here. Nearly all Christian denominations view Christ’s self-sacrifice upon the cross as a redemptive act on the behalf of all people. They teach that this act freed all people from the certainty of death, and granted them the chance to enter heaven by rejecting sin. The tree in the Giant’s garden takes on all this symbolic meaning when context—the boy Christ, the wounds on his hands and feet, the tree’s gold bark and silver fruit like the adornments of Catholic crucifixes—identifies it as the cross. The once-selfish Giant’s redemption is completed in front of a symbol for humankind’s supreme redemption.

- ©drg/Indra Bhusal

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