Betsy’s School

November 25, 2006

True Selflessness

Filed under: School — Betsy @ 10:57 am

This was the paper I wrote 2 weeks ago that compared the two short stories “The Selfish Giant” (Oscar Wilde) and “Where Love is, God is” (Also known as Martin the Cobbler by Leo Tolstoy). 


Of all the character traits people strive for in their lifetime, the one that continues to be the most elusive is selflessness.  Oscar Wilde’s short story, “The Selfish Giant”, and Leo Tolstoy’s “Where Love is, God is”, both address this desirable attribute, but approach it in two different ways.  “The Selfish Giant” is about a giant who expels some children from his garden.  After his heart is touched by a little boy, he reopens his garden to them.  Later, the Giant is invited to accompany the little boy to his garden of paradise.  The story of “Where Love is, God is” begins with Martin, a cobbler, who after the loss of his wife and son, finds his purpose in life by learning to following Jesus.  After having a vision in which he will meet Christ, he begins to help people, and meets Christ through them.  The primary theme throughout these two books is selflessness. 

          Published in 1888, Oscar Wilde’s, “The Selfish Giant”, illustrates the theme of selflessness through many elements, but primarily through the main character, a giant.  When the Giant realizes “how selfish I have been” (Wilde 3), he experiences a change of heart.  His awareness of a prolonged winter, and hoping that “there will be a change in the weather” (Wilde 2), helps this change to occur.  The Giant then knocks down the wall that had prevented the children from coming in, and reopens his garden to the children.  The conflict, which asks if the Giant will ever get rid of his selfishness, is answered by this act of selflessness.  This brings the theme to the surface, and is perhaps the most vivid example of his change of heart. 

          Leo Tolstoy’s story, “Where Love is, God is”, was published in 1885 and also deals with the theme of selflessness.  Martin, the cobbler, is struggling to find his purpose in life, and when an old friend comes to visit and urges him to live for God, Martin does so.  Like Christ, he began to selflessly provide food, tea, money, and shelter to the “unfamiliar boots” (Tolstoy 3) and friends around him.  “Come, friend, sit down and have some tea.”  (Tolstoy 3)  His selfless acts of hospitality and servitude reflected Christ, and gave God the opportunity to use Martin to touch other’s lives.  Through the conflict in wanting to meet Christ, Martin’s selflessness helps him to experience Christ through his acts of kindness towards others.  “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren even these least, ye did it unto me.”  (Tolstoy 7)  Martin unknowingly “met” Christ three times through the people he served.  Like Martin, Tolstoy became a Christian later in life.  Tolstoy at one point tried to selflessly give all of his property away, but his wife intervened.  Martin selflessly gave to the needy and touched lives through Christ.  In the same way, Christ was imitated through him. 

          In “The Selfish Giant” and “Where Love is, God is”, there are some similarities and differences in the themes of these two works regarding selflessness.  Both books start out with their main characters as being self-focused.  The Giant “was a very selfish Giant” (Wilde 1) and excludes others from his garden.  Martin approaches life from a selfish perspective because he didn’t understand why God had let his wife and son die.  He could only view his misfortune from his selfish point of view.  However, both characters were able to put aside their selfish ways, and were reborn through Jesus Christ, becoming selfless like Christ.  Wilde made his Giant’s conversion more metaphorical while Tolstoy’s cobbler was more straightforward.  The change to selflessness by these two characters was also a result of different motives.  The Giant was selfless in order to make both him and the children happier, whereas Martin was selfless out of his desire to serve God.   

          The unselfish acts performed by Martin and the Giant are something that anyone can attain, but there are flaws in the portrayal of the Giant’s selflessness that need to be addressed.  Wilde’s depiction of selflessness through the Giant is less praiseworthy because it was rooted in the desire to obtain personal happiness by making the children happy.  This approach was formed by Wilde’s worldview, which was influenced by two popular philosophies prominent during his lifetime.  The concept of the Giant sharing his garden (property) with the children represented Wilde’s socialistic ideas.  Also, Wilde’s depiction of the Giant’s motive to become selfless in wanting to be happy along with the children may have been influenced by the “it’s all about you” Decadent movement.  This is where Wilde went wrong.  You cannot become truly selfless by looking for your happiness along with others.  No matter what the Giant did to show selflessness, it would never be a true selflessness unless he did it through Christ.  True selflessness is serving others through Christ, without consideration of oneself.  Martin’s actions reflect this in the second story.  The cobbler understood the true meaning of selflessness and served others through and for Christ, and by His love.  The selflessness that Martin portrayed was only possible through Christ, a concept that continues to remain elusive for some, and one of the hardest yet most important ways one can live for Him.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  (New International Version, Philippians 4:13) 


Word Count: 889


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