The Remarkable Rocket by Oscar Wilde
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: Comedy, Fairy Tale, Short Story
“The Remarkable Rocket” is a short story written by Oscar Wilde, part of his collection of short stories titled The Happy Prince and Other Tales, published in May 1888. Other short stories in this collection are “The Happy Prince,” “The Nightingale and the Rose,” “The Selfish Giant,” “The Devoted Friend,” and “The Remarkable Rocket.” A parody of aristocracy’s vanity and conceit, it recounts the life of a firework, one of many to be let off at the wedding of a prince and princess.
1. The Remarkable Rocket Synopsis
The titular Rocket is highly arrogant and self-centered. The Rocket degrades all the other fireworks, eventually bursting into tears to demonstrate his sensitivity. As this makes him damp, he fails to ignite. The next day he is thrown away into a ditch. He still believes that he is destined for great public importance and treats a frog, dragonfly, and duck that meet him with appropriate disdain. Two boys find him and use him for fuel on their campfire. The Rocket is finally lit and explodes, but nobody observes him – the only effect he has is frightening a goose with his falling stick.
2. The Remarkable Rocket Summary
The Court is celebrating the Prince’s betrothal to a Russian Princess. The Court likened her to a white rose because the princess donned a tiny silver headdress, and her skin was as white as snow. She and the Prince hit it off immediately during their first encounter. She flushes red as he tells her that she looks stunning.
A young Page remarks the princess was like a white rose before, but she is like a red rose today, much to the pleasure of the Court and the King. The King commands to raise the Page’s salary. The Page receives no pay hence raising the Page’s wage means nothing. Still, the Court decides to spread this news in their local paper.
A couple of days after the wedding, amidst the ongoing festivities, the Prince and Princess sip from an enchanted crystal chalice. It is rumored the crystal will turn gray if anyone who does not love genuinely drinks from it. Another amusing remark is made by The Page, who claims that the couple’s love is as clear as crystal. The King doubles the Page’s pay in vain after the Court expresses its joy.
Meanwhile, the King has pledged to play the flute for his subjects at the upcoming royal ball. The author interjects to comment about the King’s awful flute playing, knowing just two airs, but the King is oblivious as none of his subjects is brave enough to tell him so.
The King instructs that a fireworks show be created as the final event because the princess has never experienced one. The fireworks begin interacting after the royal Pyrotechnist has finished organizing and getting them ready to be lit.
A little Squib declares that he has traveled the world but is harshly corrected by a Roman Candle who says the world is far more extensive than the King’s garden and would require three days to explore thoroughly. A Catherine Wheel, who takes great delight in being forlorn, laments the poets’ destruction of love. The Roman Candle and her proceed to quarrel about the subject.
Before the Rocket speaks, he coughs sharply to draw attention to himself. A Cracker calls for order to demonstrate his participation in parliament. The Rocket never establishes eye contact with the individual he is speaking to and instead peers over their shoulder while speaking in a leisurely, sophisticated manner.
The Rocket considers it a tremendous honor, great luck even, for the Prince’s wedding day to coincide with his launch. The Squib disagrees, claiming that all fireworks should be launched to celebrate the Prince and not vice versa.
The Rocket brags about his magnificence, saying that although the royal Pyrotechnist may have set up the other fireworks in celebration of the royal wedding, still, their ultimate purpose is to commemorate the Rocket’s brilliance. The Rocket claims he is the offspring of exceptional parentage, who, in his opinion, was most outstanding and extensively publicized after being set off at an event.
The Rocket makes an error when recounting his ancestry, stating “pylotechnic” instead of “pyrotechnic.” He is corrected by a Bengal Light, who claims to be sure of the word’s spelling because he has it printed on his canister. He receives a rebuke from The Rocket, who insists he meant to say it that way. The Bengal Light becomes so humiliated that he belittles the smaller fireworks to prove his social class.
The Rocket returns to discussing himself, which he proclaims is interesting. He emphasizes his sensitivity, calling it one of his many outstanding traits. The Cracker chuckles when the Roman Candle cracks a private joke about the Rocket.
The Cracker responds that he is simply laughing out of happiness when the Rocket questions the Cracker’s laughter. Being unhappy and believing that everyone else should be concerned for him, The Rocket considers the Cracker’s reply a selfish excuse. The Rocket views sympathy as a virtue but ironically feels the best definition of sympathy means thinking of himself.
The Rocket is on the verge of tears as he muses on his alleged significance. The Rocket thinks about how terrible it would be for everyone else if something happened to him. He feels that the Prince and Princess will never experience happiness again and that the King will never fully heal.
The Roman Candle and the Bengal Light tell The Rocket to stay dry if he wants to be set off properly and have people appreciate him. The Rocket, however, rejects their kind remarks because he asserts that he is extremely rare, unusual and possesses a vivid imagination.
The Rocket ignores the need to keep himself dry, lamenting that no one can understand his empathetic and highly emotional character. The Rocket gets enraged as he thinks they are laughing and having fun at the expense of the wedding.
The Fireballoon believes the royal wedding is a cause for celebration, but the Rocket thinks otherwise. Instead, the Rocket wonders how the Prince and Princess might be doomed should a series of bizarre things happen, such as their future baby perishing by drowning. The Rocket laments the tragedy’s prospect and declares that mourning would be unneeded if it ever did.
According to The Bengal Light, the Rocket is the most obnoxious person he’s ever met. The Rocket says that the Bengal Light is rude and cannot understand the Rocket’s friendship with the Prince, even though the Rocket does not know him.
He claims he and the Prince would not be friends if they ever met again. Once more, the Rocket is encouraged to stay dry, but he furiously responds that he has the right to cry if he chooses. He does this while sobbing, nearly drowning a pair of beetles.
At midnight, the Royal Pyrotechnist and his helpers light the pyrotechnics with torches. They delight the Court and have a great time as they soar and burst brightly. As the Rocket’s gunpowder has been drenched by his tears, he does not light up and is left alone.
The Rocket views this as being held back for a more significant event. The ceremony is over, and the Court departs. The next day, the cleaning staff discovers the Rocket and throws him over the fence and into a nearby country ditch. The Rocket thinks he is being sent into retreat to regain his spirit and vigor.
A frog approaches the Rocket as he is lying in the dirt, chattering nonstop. The Frog only muses on how similar the Rocket’s cough is to a croak, the most beautiful sound in the world. The Frog hardly lets the Rocket say a word as he tells the Rocket about his wildly successful choir and wonderful children.
The Rocket protests he was not given a chance to speak, but the Frog remarks that he prefers it that way, as fights can be avoided. The Rocket shouts angrily when the Frog swims away, reinforcing his conviction that everyone will recognize his magnificence one day.
A duck approaches the Rocket in the water, asking whether his peculiar appearance is a birth defect or the consequence of a tragic disaster. The Rocket disparages her as a lowly member of the middle class while also attempting to terrify her with his airborne prowess and aristocracy. The Duck, however, is unconcerned since she cannot see how it may serve society.
Furthermore, she is unimpressed by his claims of nobility and aspirations for public office because she had experience in politics and considered it fruitless. The Duck, who prefers domesticity and caring for family, persuades the Rocket to follow suit. The Rocket, though, is adamant about wanting to leave a lasting impression and chasing a luxurious life. Before the Rocket can finish, the Duck swims off.
Two boys arrive with firewood and a kettle while the Rocket contemplates his brilliance. The Rocket is mistaken for an old stick by one of them. The boys make a fire to boil water in the kettle, adding the Rocket as fuel. Even though the Rocket is still soggy, he steadily dries until his gunpowder is ready to light.
The Rocket soars into the air while the children are sound asleep. He believes that his moment has come, and he will cause an explosion in the afternoon air which will be the subject of national discussion for an entire year. He blows up but is barely noticed by anybody.
A wandering goose is the only living thing that sees him, startled by the sound of his flaming staff hitting the ground. The Rocket, however, interprets this as evidence that he has achieved tremendous fame and fizzles out.
The Rocket – The Rocket declares himself the most extraordinary object in the universe and views himself as the epitome of high society. He claims to have been conceived by remarkable parents (though it is never verified). Despite his delusions of being compassionate and virtue-driven, he is haughty, arrogant, and condescending.
The Rocket believes he is bound for greatness but has yet to leave the ground. He is looking forward to his debut in public life and the spectacular impact he thinks he will make.
The King – The King, father of the betrothed Prince, is the monarch of the realm where the narrative is set. The King is as delusional as the Rocket in that he believes in his greatness and is superior to everyone else. Although everyone in the King’s Court knows he is not a skilled musician, the King continues to believe that he is, which only reinforces his delusion.
The King tends to answer inquiries not explicitly directed at him since he feels everyone should be grateful for his insights. Although the King and the Rocket never speak, the King helps to support the Rocket’s sense of self-importance and fixation, as well as his fantasies.
The Frog – The Frog encounters the Rocket after it gets tossed into the swamp. Like the Rocket, the Frog is entirely self-centered; The Rocket thinks that good discourse is one in which only he talks, with every member of a good society sharing his beliefs.
The Frog harbors similar delusions, thinking he and his croaking club are incredibly well-liked. Instead of realizing their noise is an annoyance that prevents everyone from sleeping, they mistakenly believe everyone is awake to appreciate their lovely music.
The Duck – The Duck is a local from the countryside which the Rocket meets when he is in the swamp. Due to her inability to understand how the Rocket is helpful to the rest of the world, the Duck has little regard for the Rocket’s haughtiness and egotistic statements. The Duck, who has a pleasant temperament, invites the Rocket to settle in the countryside.
The Duck briefly dabbled in public life and politics but soon realized she was too sensible for it and decided to settle for taking care of her family. The Duck is the model of middle-class decency and simplicity, whereas the Rocket is the personification of high-society conceit.
4.1. Pride, Arrogance, and Delusion
In “The Remarkable Rocket,” Wilde cautions against the negative repercussions of an inflated ego. The titular Rocket, created to celebrate a royal wedding, considers himself the most significant and admirable person to have ever lived. The Rocket entertains several fantasies that enable him to keep his sense of grandeur despite not performing as a firework should.
He is not alone in this, though. The King and the Frog, the other two characters in the novel, are each equally preoccupied with their sense of significance, which causes each of them to live in a hallucinatory subjective world. The Rocket, the King, and the Frog cannot see reality for what it is due to their delusions.
4.2. High Society and Snobbery
Wilde portrays the upper class, with its ceremonies and posturing, as hollow, bringing neither function nor beauty to the world, starting with the royal wedding and the Courtiers and ending with the bundle of fireworks and their conversations. Wilde argues that high society’s preoccupations and judgments are mostly useless through his ridicule of its members.
“The Remarkable Rocket” demonstrates how high society lacks what the middle class provides to the rest of the world in terms of function or worth. The fireworks momentarily burst into the air, delivering barely a flicker of distraction, and the King and the Courtiers are never mentioned as performing any job or duty. Both the Court and the pyrotechnics, symbolizing the social elite, accomplish nothing or make any fundamental contributions to society.
4.3. Fame and Alienation
The Rocket’s only desire is to become well-known, admired, and the center of attention. The Rocket wants and feels entitled to it because of his eminent magnificence and distinguished history. He views it as his inheritance. The Rocket sees his end as inevitable, given his popularity and fortune. Unfortunately, the Rocket’s ego and certainty in his destiny lead to his demise and cast him out into the wilderness to perish in obscurity.
The famous quote by Oscar Wilde, “There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being spoken about,” forewarns that the desire for fame, the need to escape loneliness, and the desire to be well-known and well recognized are equally likely to lead to utter estrangement.
Chasing fame with single-mindedness makes the issue worse. The Rocket is given numerous opportunities to fit in and become well-known but refuses to accept anything less than unparalleled excellence and fame. Wilde contends that anyone who wants fame at all costs will perish in obscurity with nothing, just as the Rocket did.
In 1975, Potterton Productions (from Canada) created a faithful 24-minute animated short of the short story, which David Niven narrated.
6. Quotes from The Remarkable Rocket
‘I am laughing because I am happy,’ replied the Cracker.
“That is a very selfish reason,” said the Rocket angrily. “What right have you to be happy? You should be thinking about others. In fact, you 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. It is a beautiful virtue, and I possess it in a high degree.”
The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.
Every one was a great success except the Remarkable Rocket. He was so damp with crying that he could not go off at all. The best thing in him was the gunpowder, and that was so wet with tears that it was of no use. All his poor relations, to whom he would never speak, except with a sneer, shot up into the sky like wonderful golden flowers with blossoms of fire.
I like to do all the talking myself. It saves time, and prevents arguments. Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everybody in good society holds exactly the same opinions.