The Dwarf & The Mirror

Victorian mirror. Free image via Pixabay.

One of my favorite stories to read, or at least remember during Christmas is The Birthday of the Infanta by Oscar Wilde. Here's why.

Episode transcript

A story that I associate with Christmas is The Birthday of the Infanta by Oscar Wilde. It's a short — I wouldn't exactly say "children's" story, but the main character are children.

Which is one reason that I think about it during Christmas. You know, they say this season if for children or the child at heart. So definitely there's an element of innocence, and also the cruelty of that innocence. Because when you're a child you don’t have yet that sense of justice and politeness, civility.

As you can guess by the title, if you haven't read it yet, the story's entire backdrop is a festive celebration. And if you haven't read it yet, and you're the type who gets mad spoilers, now's the time press stop or move on to the next podcast.

So it was the birthday of the Infanta. There were lots of activities to please her. Lots of entertainment. One of the entertainers was a dwarf. The Infanta and her friends loved the dwarf, in a sense that they loved laughing at him.

In one scene, the young Infanta as a joke threw to him the rose that was tucked in her hair as adornment, and requested that the dwarf entertain or dance for her again later in the day.

And the dwarf took it all seriously, as a sign deep of affection. In his excitement he went inside the palace searching for the Infanta. He couldn't wait to see her again, he was even fantasizing about asking her to live with him in the forest.

So he went through several rooms in the palace, but all of them were empty and quiet. Then he entered another and thought there was another person with him. Let me read to you what happened next:

Standing under the shadow of the doorway, at the extreme end of the room, he saw a little figure watching him. His heart trembled, a cry of joy borke from his lips, and he moved out into the sunlight. As he did so, the figure moved out also, and he saw it plainly.
He saw himself. For the first time. And I cannot narrate the drama that happened. But imagine how the dwarf must have felt. Realizing slowly, with so much disbelief at first, that he's a monster. And he realized that people didn't like him. That instead they were making fun of him. The laughter? They were laughing at jokes and the joke was him.

And that the Infanta was making a fool out of him.

Why do I go back to this story during Christmas? Because we are aware that this season is a fantasy.

What I like about the writing of this story is how straightforward the commentary is on being ugly and being beautiful. It acknowledges that divide. Among other divides. But let's focus on beauty and ugliness.

Here's a passage describing how the flowers in the garden felt about The Dwarf:

Even the red Geraniums, who did not usually give themselves airs, and were known to have a great many poor relations themselves, remarked that though he was certainly extremely plain, still he could not help it, they retorted with a good deal of justice that that was his chief defect, and that there was no reason why one should admire a person because he was incurable ; and, indeed, some of the Violets themselves felt that the ugliness of the little Dwarf was almost ostentatious, and that he would have shown much better taste if he had looked sad, or at least pensive, instead of jumping about merrily, and thorwing himself into such grotesque and silly attitudes.
In the end The Dwarf died of a broken heart.

This, I guess, is my way of congratulating you, yes you who's listening right now, for surviving and conquering hard realities.

It is also my way of wishing us that the next time we look in the mirror, even if we don't like what we see, or even if what we see breaks our heart, I wish that we would manage to turn back into the world alive and, if you're anything like me, remain an incurable optimist.

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What's your favorite Christmas story?


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