Based on his short story "The Nightingale and the Rose," how can we see Oscar Wilde as a satirist of his society?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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It can be said that Oscar Wilde used his short story "The Nightingale and the Rose" to satirize romantic views held by Victorian society, views that were carried over from the Romantic era.

The Romantic era idealized deep, intense emotions, the ability to be spontaneous, to feel sincere, and the feeling of isolation. Romantic poets even idealized love. Writers and even the general public still clung to many of these Romantic views while also knowing they needed to find a new understanding of self and society. Hence, Wilde's short story satirizes both the old Romantic views and the new Victorian understanding of self.

The Romantic views of idealizing both love and intense feelings is satirized in both the characters the Nightingale and the Student. The Student is grieving over being in love with a professor's daughter because he feels he has no way to woo her at the upcoming dance. He wants to woo her with a red rose but can't find one in his garden. In turn, the Nightingale falls deeply in love with the Student due to his intense love for the professor's daughter. She falls so deeply in love with him that she becomes willing to sacrifice her own life for the sake of giving him the red rose he thinks he so desperately needs, as we see in the narration, "'Look, look! cried the Tree, 'the rose is finished now;' but the Nightingale made no answer, for she was lying dead in the long grass, with the thorn in her heart." Sacrificing life for the sake of love is a common theme found in Romantic literature and one that Wilde is satirizing to point out its foolishness.

We further see his satirization of the Romantic view of sacrifice for love when the Nightingale's sacrifice turns out to have been completely pointless. The professor's daughter rejects both the rose and the Student, and the Student reflects to himself just how ridiculous love is and says he'll "go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics." The Student's complete rejection of love in favor of studies represents the Victorian new understanding of self, something Wilde is also showing to be absolutely ridiculous and satirizing.

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