The Devoted Friend

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Get summary, answers/notes, and solutions of the chapter The Devoted Friend by Oscar Wilde which is a part of class 9 Alternative English syllabus for students studying under Nagaland Board of School Education. However, these notes should be used only for references and additions/modifications should be made as per the requirements.

SUMMARY: The Devoted Friend by Oscar Wilde is kind of a fable and should not be taken in a literal sense. This story begins as a conversation between a water-rat, a duck and a linnet. The linnet is the storyteller, and a clever one at that, because the linnet appears to point to a certain similarity between the water-rat and the Miller, without saying so, and the water-rat is very proud to identify with the Miller.

The story The Devoted Friend that the linnet tells to the water rate is of a kind-hearted person named Hans and a selfish person named Miller. Hans always thought that Miller was his best friend, but the Miller was selfish and he used to make Hans do his own works and use him. The Miller was great at talking, and he would call Hans his best friend, but he did not care for Hans and did not help him during his bad times in the winter. Once the winter was over, the Miller would go to the house of Hans and take a bucket full of flowers from him.

In The Devoted Friend, the Miller promises Hans that he would give him his wheelbarrow as Hans had sold his own during the winter. But on return, he kept Hans asking for favours which Hans kept on fulfiling until one day while trying to help Miller he died. He would not have died if the Miller was less selfish and cared for him.

The story very obviously is pointing to values-of generosity and goodness and happiness. The sad part of the story is that Hans becomes a victim of his own innocence and goodness. Like the linnet points out, of course, there is a moral. The water-rat does not like a moral.

I. Explain with reference to context.

1. 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.

a. Who is the “he” referred to here?
b. What was his most distinguishing quality?
c. Who was supposedly his best friend?

Answer: a. The ‘he’ referred here is little Hans.

b. His most distinguished quality was that he was his kind heart and his funny round good-humoured face.

c. His supposedly best friend was the Miller.

2. “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.

a. Why was the Miller’s son ashamed of himself?
b. Was the Miller justified in making his son feel ashamed?
c. Do you agree with the Miller that talking well is harder than acting well?

Answer: a. The Miller’s son had suggested inviting Hans in their house, at which the Miller scolded him by saying that this would make Hans fill with envy and as a good friend he did not want his friend to be spoilt.

b. No, the Miller was not justified in making his son feel ashamed.

c. No, I don’t agree with the Miller that talking well is harder than acting well. Anyone can talk well but it is very difficult to stand during difficult times of others.

ll. Answer these questions briefly.

1. What did the neighbours think about the friendship between Hans and the Miller?

Answer: The Neighbours found it strange to see the friendship between Hans and the Miller. The Miller never gave Hans anything whereas Hans always gave the Miller one thing or the other.

2. How did Hans die? Was this just?

Answer: Hans went out in a stormy night to call a doctor for Miller’s sick son. The night was very dark but the Miller refused to give Hans his lantern. While returning from the doctor’s house, he lost his way and fell into a bog and was found dead the next morning.

No, it was not just. It was the miller’s responsibility to call the doctor. Further, the Miller should have given him the lantern so that he did not get lost.

III. Answer these questions.

1. Why was it difficult for Hans to say ‘no’ to the Miller? State your reasons.

Answer: It was difficult for Hans to say no to the Miller because Hans considered Miller to be his best friend. Hans was unable to refuse any request made by the Miller as he felt that he would be a bad friend if he did not oblige with the duties that the Miller had given to him. Moreover, Miller would guilt trap him by saying that he was going to give him a wheelbarrow.

2. Why are there two sets of characters? (bird-water-rat-duck/humans) Explain.

Answer: Oscar Wilde had created a story within a story using the fairy tale structure to convey a message. The two sets of characters mentioned in the story are humans and animals. In the story, Oscar Wilde is using human behaviour to teach morals to other animals and is full of ironies. The way in which the story is told itself is kind of ironical. I think Oscar Wilde chose two sets of characters to bring out the irony of the story, not just through the story of good-hearted Hans and selfish Miller, but also through the fact that animals are using human behaviour to teach morals instead of the other way around mostly used in fables.

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