It’s a Wilde Ride Up Here: “The Remarkable Rocket,” as written by the spirit of “Rocket Man” Oscar Wilde (and interpreted* by the physicality of Melissa Alter)

AND I THINK IT’S GONNA BE A LONG LONG TIME SUMMARY

(except not really because the point of a summary is to be concise)

Oscar Wilde’s “The Remarkable Rocket” begins with a prince and a princess meeting each other days before their wedding. The prince compliments her appearance, and the young page makes a humorous comment that causes the king to double his salary (which is completely useless, since the page isn’t paid at all, and twice nothing is still nothing. The king should have tripled his salary instead.) The two royals get married and drink from a crystal chalice, which prompts the page to make another pun, and the king once again doubles his nonexistent salary. In honor of his son’s wedding, the king summons the Royal Pyrotechnist, who prepares a firework show to go off at midnight. In the hours leading up to the show, the fireworks begin to talk to each other. A Squib is proud of himself for traveling, and the Roman Candle corrects him, saying that the king’s garden is not the world. A Catharine Wheel interjects, reminiscing on her past love and thinking about how romance is dead. The Rocket, who is a smidge pretentious, demands everyone’s attention before announcing that the prince and princess are very lucky that their wedding day happened to coincide with the day he was being let off. The Squib tries to correct him, but the Rocket ignores him. He continues discussing himself and how amazing he is, scolding a Cracker for not thinking about others – namely, himself. He prides himself on being important and degrades the other firecrackers as mundane. The other fireworks emphasize the importance of staying dry, but the Rocket ignores them and starts crying. When midnight comes, the Royal Pyrotechnist starts the firework display. All of the firecrackers go off except the Rocket, whose tears have made his gunpowder too wet to ignite. When the maintenance crew comes the next day, one of them says that the firecracker is a ‘bad rocket’. The Rocket is mortally offended, until he realizes that the man actually said ‘grand rocket’ (an easy mistake to make, I’m sure). The rocket is tossed from the walls of the castle and falls in the mud. A frog hops by and starts talking over the Rocket, who is very offended that he can’t get a word in. The Rocket points out that the frog is selfish for only talking about himself, when all the Rocket wants to do is talk about himself. A dragonfly comes by and points out that the frog has left, and the Rocket is talking to himself; the Rocket replies that it is not his fault the frog is missing out on a wise conversation. A white duck paddles by and asks the Rocket how he serves a practical purpose in life; the Rocket responds that he doesn’t need to be useful because he has “certain accomplishments, and that is more than sufficient.” When the duck leaves, the Rocket initially calls her back, but then decides he is glad she is gone. Next, a couple of boys come across the Rocket and mistake him for an old stick (luckily, the Rocket soon realizes that the boy meant to say ‘gold stick’. A mere slip of the tongue). The boys decide to use him as firewood and put him in the pile of sticks to burn. It takes a while, but eventually the Rocket’s gunpowder dries and he goes off in a shower of sparks. Unfortunately, nobody witnessed his explosion (but it was amazing, let me tell you. Big crowds, he had the biggest crowds, what a turnout). When the Rocket comes back down, he is pleased with his sensational success before finally going out.

‘TILL TOUCH DOWN BRINGS ME ‘ROUND AGAIN TO FIND THE CHRONIC AND ACUTE TENSIONS

The chronic tension is the Rocket’s desire to be admired.

The acute tension is the royal wedding of the prince and princess.

I’M NOT THE MAN THEY THINK I AM AT HOME; OH, NO, NO, NO (I’M WAY MORE COMPELLING THAN THAT)

Two of my favorite things about this story were the ways that Wilde used humor and personification to poke fun at the upper classes. Wilde starts with the “human” side of the story, where he takes advantage of the numerous opportunities to lightly insult the king. He makes fun of the pointless, yet widely acknowledged, actions of the royals, as when

…the King gave orders that the Page’s salary was to be doubled. As he received no salary at all this was not of much use to him, but it was considered a great honour, and was duly published in the Court Gazette.

Having the Page’s salary doubled twice emphasizes the humor of this moment; although nothing is ultimately changed, the king’s actions are praised nonetheless. Additionally, Wilde satirizes the sycophants in the Court. The king himself

…only knew two airs, and was never quite certain which one he was playing; but it made no matter, for, whatever he did, everybody cried out, «Charming! charming!»

The utter insanity of these circumstances serves a dual purpose of being humorous and making fun of those who pander to the elite.

The personification of the firecrackers, namely the Rocket, is also used to make fun of the nobility. The Rocket’s convoluted notions of what constitutes ‘good behavior’ parallels the ignorance and braggadocious[1] nature of the Court, as exemplified when he notes that everyone else

“…should be thinking about me. I am always thinking about myself, and I expect everybody else to do the same. That is what is called sympathy.”

There are several instances where the Rocket employs faulty logic to explain his actions. For instance, when the duck leaves, he initially cries for her to “Come back! Come back!” but in the next line decides that he is “glad that she has gone,” for “she has a decidedly middle-class mind.” The Rocket changes his mind to suit the circumstances throughout the course of the story, and each occurrence further develops Wilde’s mockery of the upper class.

I’M A ROCKET MAN AND I STEAL THE SHOW: SO HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN STEAL FROM ME

Using humor and personification are light, gentle ways to poke fun at the upper class, which is a good technique to convey your message without getting arrested (or beheaded, depending on who exactly you’re satirizing). Structurally, the story begins with the humans and then transitions to the firecrackers, where it proceeds to follow the Rocket’s perspective. In a way, this fulfills his desire to be a prominent figure, as Wilde forces the readers to focus their attention on the Rocket. Choosing to focus on either an attention-seeking character or a shyer one can impact the reader’s sympathies.

Although the reader gets a sense of the king as a bumbling ruler, each of the firecrackers is characterized more than the humans. Much of the characterization, for both firecrackers and humans, is done through dialogue or the author’s asides; personally, I like the narrative interjections as a way to give context for the character’s actions (such as the side note about Page having no salary).

Using a third person point of view allows the reader to get insight into both the humans’ and firecrackers’ worlds. For this reason, third person is practical, although it also permits for a more satirical story. Writing this in first person from the Rocket’s perspective wouldn’t have allowed the reader to understand the humans’ perspectives and might have only ostracized the reader further from this character. Because it’s written in third person, we understand from the moment we meet the Rocket that he makes false justifications (such as when he states that the prince and princess happen to be getting married on the day of his explosion, and that their marriage was not the cause for his explosion). This knowledge shapes how the reader will view the Rocket for the rest of the story and hints that we will have to take everything the Rocket says with a grain of salt.

ROCKET MAN, BURNING OUT HIS FUSE UP HERE ALONE (SO I’LL INVITE YOU TO JOIN ME BY ASKING Y’ALL SOME QUESTIONS)

  1. Why are the firecrackers characterized more than the humans? Did the lack of characterization for the humans bother you? How much characterization is necessary on the part of both the humans and inanimate objects?
  2. Why was there no character change anywhere in the story?
  3. Was the Rocket given a redeeming quality? Why/why not? Did this character work for you or just annoy you?
  4. No one ended up watching the Rocket’s moment of glory – did that diminish it?
  5. Was this an effective method of satirizing the upper classes?

* Any similarities this bears to the work or words of Oscar Wilde, Elton John, Donald Trump, or any other prominent figure, is not intended to violate copyright.

[1] Copyright Donald Trump

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