The Nightingale and the Rose is an allegory to selflessness and selfishness combined, and how one affects the other. In this story, a young student becomes smitten by a young woman who "would only dance with him if he brought her red roses". The cries of the young man, who only had white roses in his garden was heard by a nightingale, who thought he has finally met a "true lover." Hence, the Nightingale sacrifices himself by pressing his heart against the thorn of a white rose, which is symbolic of Wilde's paradigm that love must be sacrificial, maddening, and deadly if it must be. In the end, we realize that both the young woman and the student were the typical Victorian stereotypes that Wilde detested so much: The holier-than-thou types who claim and swear by their feelings, emotions, and beliefs only to deny them later. This means the nightingale made its sacrifice in vain, and that its love may very well be unique (and alone) in the world.
This work by Wilde has been critically reviewed for the possibility that this was Wilde's own cries and inner battles trying to "find new sensations". Wilde was notorious for saying how all sensations must be experienced freely, as his mentor Walter Pater would also avow.
The sacrificial nature of the Bird reflects Wilde himself during his last years, when he sacrificed his freedom for the love of his male lover, against the statutes of Victorian Law. Like the bird, Wilde also did it maybe all in vain—life went on as usual, even after he tried to do the heroic act of working toward acceptance in society.