The Nightingale and the Rose

by Oscar Wilde

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How would you describe the girl in Oscar Wilde's "The Nightingale and the Rose"?

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In "The Nightingale and the Rose," the young girl is the daughter of the Professor and the object of the student's affections. Although Wilde does not describe the girl physically, the story teaches us much about her character. She does not appreciate the true meaning of love, as we see in the opening paragraph when she demands the student bring her a red rose. This shows she has a superficial understanding of love based on appearances and objects. This idea is also echoed at the end of the story when she rejects the student because the color of the rose he brings her clashes with her dress.

But the girl frowned. “I am afraid it will not go with my dress,” she answered.

This quote also demonstrates two more of the girl's character traits: her fickleness and materialism. Her decision to choose the Chamberlain's nephew because he sends her jewels shows how quickly she changes her affections. In her mind, the girl judges the monetary value of the jewels to be much higher than that of the rose and this proves the nephew loves her more than the student. When called "ungrateful" by the student, the girl proves just how materialistic she is when she ridicules his appearance. Tragically, the student is too naïve to realize she does not represent true love and he turns his back (presumably forever) on matters of the heart.

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What are the qualities of the three main characters in "The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde?  

The three main characters represent different degrees of feeling and sentiment. 

  • The Student

The student is in love with being in love. He speaks of love much like the courtly lovers of old:

"Ah, on what little things does happiness depend! I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine, yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched"

He imagines how he will hold his love if he brings her a red rose as a symbol of his devotion to her: "She will lean her head....and hold my hand." But, if he does not have the rose, he fears that she will "pass me by."

When this romantic young man brings the beautiful red rose for which the nightingale has sacrificed its life to the pretty young daughter of the Professor, she rejects it because it will not harmonize with her dress and a wealthy young man has given her jewels.

But, it is his reaction more than hers which is the most telling. He has no more appreciation for the beauty of this perfect rose than does the selfish girl to whom he has tried to give it. He has only desired it and said all that he has in the hope that she will adorn his arm. For, as he leaves he says, "What a silly thing Love is," indicating further the superficiality that belies his words, words which the lovely nightingale, sadly, has believed to be heartfelt. Furthermore, he tosses the rose away because he has only wanted it to win over the girl, not for its beauty as the nightingale had thought.

Nor does he appreciate the nightingale. He callously writes in his notebook:

In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style, without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others.

  • The Professor's Daughter

When the Student brings the girl the beautiful red rose, he asks her to wear it, with the intention of then telling her he loves her. But she dismisses anything romantic, saying,

"I am afraid it will not go with my dress," she answered; "and, besides, the Chamberlain's nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers."

She proves herself shallow and materialistic.

  • The Nightingale

This little bird embodies all that the others lack because she is willing to die for love. She tells the rose tree,

"Yet Love is better than Life, and what is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?"

Unfortunately, her sacrifice is wasted because she has been an idealist who has allowed herself to be deceived by the superficial sentiments of the Student, who merely mimics romantic phrases he has probably read.

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What are the characterization of the student, the young girl and the Nightingale in The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde?

The nightingale describes the young student as a "true lover", and admires him for :

His hair is dark as the hyacinth-blossom, and his lips are red as the rose of his desire; but passion has made his face like pale ivory, and sorrow has set her seal upon his brow.”

The student characterizes the nightingale's from her singing:

“She has form,” he said to himself, as he walked away through the grove—“that cannot be denied to her; but has she got feeling? I am afraid not. In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style, without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish. Still, it must be admitted that she has some beautiful notes in her voice. What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good.”

This means that the shallowness of the student is such that he even gave artistic criticism to the altruistically generous singing of the bird.

The female is just as shallow as the student. We do not get a clear characterization of hers except for the fact that the student calls her "Ungrateful" (and dully so), and that she had preferred the jewels and the company of the Lord Chambertain's nephew to the dance, disregarded the rose, and left the student jilted and angry.

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