The Doer of Good: an Intriguing Poem
An Analysis of an Oscar Wilde Poem
In “The Doer of Good,” one of Oscar Wilde’s “poems in prose,” he tells a story in which Jesus Christ returns to the land of the living and meets with people on whom He had previously performed miracles. The man He healed of leprosy is taking advantage of his life free of suffering and is living in selfish luxury; the blind man to whom He gave vision is using his sight to lust after beautiful women; a woman of whose sins He had forgiven is leading a sinful life because it is pleasant and, since she is forgiven for her sins, a relapse is only natural and there are no tangible repercussions; the man who had died and who He had brought back to life is weeping because He took him from Heaven and returned him to earth.
After inquiring about why these people are acting in this sinful manner, they each give their own responses which can be summarized in a simple sentence: “Well, what did you expect?” This suggests that despite the miraculous, mankind’s nature and apparent tendency to sin is very strong and difficult to overcome in the quest to practice theology and have faith. Another theme is that people are likely to forget kindness and take advantage of its superior results.
This poem is intriguing because it sheds an interesting light. It takes the intended good deeds of Christ and shows how His miracles ironically did not have the beneficial or inspiring effects that were intended. This goes along with a recurring theme of Wilde’s writing, that of hedonism: there is no right or wrong; there is only what gives a person pleasure and what does not. While I do not necessarily agree with them, I am intrigued by and respect pieces of writing like this that ridicule the beliefs of Christians. Because I have been raised a Catholic my entire life, it is always interesting to see the other side of the argument, the side of nonbelievers, and it is usually encouraging to know that, while many of these arguments have sound points, their logic is not flawless, which leaves the debate still open for interpretation.
As an English teacher from Maryland points out in his online blog, The Doer of Good does not hesitate to illustrate its tone. The first sentence is “It was night-time and He was alone.” In addition to revealing a crucial hint at the protagonist’s identity through use of the capital “H,” this sentence is also effective in that it creates a dark tone for the piece. Why emphasize that He is alone? It is likely that aloneness has a fearful connotations which add to the effect of the piece.
Furthermore, the nighttime setting denotes an absence of daylight which makes the story have obscure overtones. The darkness also has biblical symbolism; the dichotomy of light and darkness is an extended metaphor which is prevalent in the Bible, as the power of God is often described as light conquering the darkness. Thus, the setting of nighttime may symbolize a lack of faith or a location where Christ has less power than usual.
The aforementioned irony of the poem is established throughout, as Christ’s repeated investigation into the lives of the people who he has healed turns up with negative results each time. This emphasizes the secular themes of the poem, showing ironically how the great, miraculous gifts from God are abused immediately and used for trivial, sinful pursuits. Another example of irony, the Maryland teacher suggests, is that of the healed blind man: “He received physical sight from Christ, but by turning away from Him, the young man becomes blind to God’s grace.”
While his analysis seems rooted in the idea that Oscar Wilde wrote it to insult humanity for abusing the gifts of God, I believe that the poem’s true purpose was to demonstrate the author’s belief of the futility of faith and the ultimate uselessness of living a devoutly Christian life. In either case, Wilde certainly presents interesting concepts in The Doer of Good.
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An Analysis of an Oscar Wilde Poem In “The Doer of Good,” one of Oscar Wilde’s “poems in prose,” he tells a story in which Jesus Christ returns to the […]