How would you describe the nightingale's selfishness in "The Frog and the Nightingale" by Vikram Seth?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Seth's "The Frog and the Nightingale," the nightingale's selfishness can be seen in the approach she takes to her gift of song.

The nightingale displays selfishness in how she loves to be adored. For example, she is flattered the frog would tutor her. She sees it as a sign of respect. This is seen in how she calls him "Mozart" and looks at the entire situation as a dream come true. The frog appeals to the nightingale's vanity, an extension of her self-indulgence: "You'll remain a mere beginner/ But with me you'll be a winner." To be a "winner" is what moves the nightingale to accept the frog's tuition. Her desire to be a "winner" shows a type of selfishness. She is not content with singing as its own good; she wants more applause and audience acceptance, qualities reflecting her vanity and selfishness. The nightingale's selfish approach can also be seen in how she refers to "her" song: "I don't think the song's divine./ But—oh, well—at least it's mine." She emphasizes her own condition above all else, even the divine, in the way she sings "her song."

The nightingale loves appreciation from others. She is entranced when others shower her with praise. She is "quite unused to such applause" when she first sings her song. Her selfish desire for more praise leads to her destruction:

. . . she grew more morose—
For her ears were now addicted
To applause quite unrestricted,
And to sing into the night
All alone gave no delight.

The nightingale does not view her gift as something she can do "all alone." She needs an audience and the praise they provide. The only "delight" she has is when she is able to be the center of others' attention. This selfishness causes her to be reckless with her voice and not realize she is a victim of the frog's manipulation. As a result, the nightingale's selfishness is a negative trait that defines her predicament.

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The Frog and the Nightingale

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